Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Issue of Truth in Islam

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

I have an email from a Muslim who responded to one of my articles. He wrote, "You are telling me to doubt Mohammed (PBUH) but you will not doubt Paul and Constantine who are the founders of present day Christianity. Why would I consider that Mohammed (PBUH) is wrong since he was a descendent of Abraham (PBUH) and there are more than ample proofs that he was guided."1

At first glance it would seem easy to answer his comment in a satisfactory way. But there is a deeper understanding that must be settled first. In any discussion where the validity or truth of an argument or statement is called into question, there can be no meaningful discussion unless there is some mutually accepted basis for determining truth.

Let’s look at the above quoted email. It seems in this comment that one should accept Mohammed’s statement as true simply because he was descended from Abraham. But so are the Jews whom many Muslims despise and consider infidels. Muslims would never accept Jews simply on the fact they were descended from Abraham. So why should one believe Mohammed simply because he was descended from Abraham? Immediately, the question arises how we can reliably determine truth.

In the history of philosophy, the question of truth has been an important issue. How can one detect truth from falsehood? Several ways of evaluating statements as true or false have been proposed by philosophers.

First, if a statement corresponds to a visible fact it can be verified as true. This is called the correspondence theory. For instance, if I say, "it is raining outside," one may look and see for one’s self. If it is really raining, then it is a true statement, if not, then it is false. However, not everything can be seen, therefore, not everything has a visual confirmation. For example, when one considers the existence of God who cannot be seen, other tests or verifications of truth must be sought.

Secondly, a statement must agree with other known facts or supporting evidence. If a statement does not agree with other obvious facts, then we have reason to question its truth. It has a great chance of being false. This idea is called the coherence test. For example, if you were to say my friend Jerry is a thief, that would be contrary to my 50 years of friendship with him. I would not believe you unless you gave me supporting evidence for your statement which might include a warrant for his arrest, or a police record for past thefts. That would tend to validate your claim against him.

The third philosophical test of truth is the pragmatic test summed up by William James’ statement, "the truth is that which works." On the other hand, if it does not work, it has been shown to be false. The first part of this test of truth is easily illustrated in technological situations. For instance, if you have been locked out of your apartment, and call the maintenance man with dozens of keys, then the key that works is the true key.

In applying the pragmatic test to less concrete discussions, the negative implications of the pragmatic test become more obvious. That is, if an idea does not work, or produce good results it proves itself false.

(One political example of this application is Marxism. After 70 years Marxism is a totally flawed ideology. It suppressed freedom, demeaned minorities (remember the Gulags?), taught only the party line, negated personal initiative, and even taught false science because of party politics, as in the Lysenko debacle.2)

Given a little background in philosophy and the tests of truth, we can look at the first statement of this Muslim writer. "You are telling me to doubt Mohammed (PBUH) but you will not doubt Paul and Constantine who are the founders of present day Christianity."

We can best evaluate this statement from the standpoint of coherence, i.e., is there sufficient corroborating evidence to confirm this statement?

The only way we can deal with this statement is historically. What do we know about these people? We can start with the historical frame of reference. Mohammed lived over 600 years after Jesus and Paul. He lived over 300 years after Constantine. Since Mohammed was isolated from Christian and even Jewish history by both hundreds of years of time and a very different cultural reference can we trust what he said about Christianity? Furthermore, since Muslims freely admit that Mohammed was illiterate, he could not have read a history of Christianity nor the Bible. What he learned seems to have been from people who were not well informed themselves and who passed along oral mis-information. Moreover, there is the problem of Mohammed’s understanding of "foreign ideas." The name of Constantine does not appear in the Qur’an, so it has to be later Muslims who are proposing that Constantine was the founder of Christianity. Is there any evidence that Constantine founded Christianity, as we know it today? The answer is no. Constantine desired to bring unity to the Christian community in his time, but orthodox Christianity was nearly 300 years old by the time of Constantine. What about Paul? Is he the corruptor of the religion of Jesus? Again, the answer is no. If one will read the New Testament with an unbiased mind, one will discover that the same message in the four Gospels is declared in the letters of Paul with faithful clarity.

The statements of Paul cohere with the message of Jesus. Let us look at one example to see if this can be true or not. Consider the following story Jesus told in the Gospel of Matthew.

"Jesus told the chief priests and leaders to listen to this story. A land-owner once planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it and dug a pit to crush the grapes in. He also built a lookout tower. Then he rented out his vineyard and left the country. When it was harvest time, the owner sent some servants to get his share of the grapes. But the renters grabbed those servants. They beat up one, killed one, and stoned one of them to death. He then sent more servants than he did the first time. But the renters treated them in the same way. Finally, the owner sent his own son to the renters, because he thought they would respect him. But when they saw the man’s son, they said, ‘Someday he will own the vineyard. Let’s kill him! Then we can have it all for ourselves.’ So they grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Jesus asked, ‘When the owner of that vineyard comes, what do you suppose he will do to those renters?’ The chief priests and leaders answered, ‘He will kill them in some horrible way. Then he will rent out his vineyard to people who will give him his share of grapes at harvest time.’" (Matthew 21:33-41)

The parable stands for some basic truths. The land-owner is God who has created the world, and allowed man to live in it. The servants were the prophets who came to give God’s message and they were beaten and killed. The owner then sent his Son who was also killed which is what Jesus predicted about Himself. Implicit in this story is the relationship of the Father to the Son. God is eternally the Father, and the Son is eternally the Son. This is the same message one finds in Paul as well as the Gospel of John. God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. (John 3:16, CEV) Paul describes this in a number of places, "Christ obeyed God our Father and gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins to rescue us from this evil world." (Galatians1:4) Romans 8:32 says, "God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? (CEV) One can see that Paul describes the same ideas that Jesus declared and which the four gospels faithfully proclaim.

Another illustration of the statements of Islam not being in agreement with other known facts (coherence) can be seen in the matter of the crucifixion of Jesus. The Qur’an says that the crucifixion of Jesus never took place, "And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, Allah’s messenger-they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! Those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain." (4:157) This teaching is contrary to all other secular and religious recorded history.

Let us look at the evidence.

First, we can look at non-Biblical, non-Christian, and secular writers who spoke of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian, (born AD 52) wrote of the reign of Nero and his persecution of the Christians stating that "Christus, the founder of the Christian movement was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius…." (Annales, xv.44)

Lucian, a skeptic and satirist of the second century wrote about Christ, "… the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world." (The Passing Peregruis)

Pliny Secundus, governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor wrote the emperor, Trajan, about AD 112 seeking advice on how to deal with Christians. He had been killing so many men and women, boys and girls, and wondered if he should continue the policy. If they will curse the Christ, they can be freed, if not they were punished. He explained that their whole guilt seemed to be "their habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up." (Epistles X.96)

The reason the early Christians worshipped Christ as God was because Jesus had been crucified and then rose from death proving to them that His claim to be the Son of God was true. Pliny also refers to a meal that was observed in the time of worship which was the Lord’s Supper remembering his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

Julius Africanus, (about AD 221), a Christian historian probably born in Libya, criticizes Thallus, the Samaritan, a secular historian, concerning his interpretation of the darkness which occurred when Jesus was crucified, saying, "Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonable, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died)."

2. Jewish sources. The first source is Josephus born about 37 A.D. In the Antiquities, Josephus wrote about Jesus. There is debate concerning this source, however, the debate is over the resurrection, not the crucifixion. The fact that the resurrection is mentioned is suspect in the minds of Jews and Liberals, but they do not question the genuineness of the crucifixion. "He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for the he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day." (Antiquities, Xviii.33)

The Jewish Talmud refers to the death of Jesus in a manner attempting to exonerate the Jews from the death of Jesus. "On the eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth) and the herald went before him for forty days saying (Yeshu of Nazareth) is going forth to be stoned in that he hath practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. Let everyone knowing aught in his defense come and plead for him. But they found naught in his defense and hanged him on the eve of Passover." (Babylonia Sanhedrin 43a)

3. Apostolic sources. There are a number of sources reflected in the New Testament. The earliest are the letters of Paul which are dated from AD 51-62. Paul asked the Galatians, "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth crucified among you?" (Galatians 3:1) To the Corinthians he wrote, "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2) There are other references of Paul to the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Gospels are to be dated before AD 70 because Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem saying that it would take place with that generation. Surely, if any gospel were written later than the destruction of Jerusalem the writer could not have resisted to say, "he told you so." The Gospels give much space to the last days of Jesus and to the crucifixion. It was the pivotal event in their lives and thought. These were Jews who were eyewitnesses to the events of the death of Jesus on the cross.

4. Other confirming sources. There are a number of sources in the history of the church that relate to the Gospels. Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History refers to Papias who comments on the Gospels. One may refer to Irenaeus who was a student of Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and others who refer to the Gospels and epistles of the New Testament. These all confirm the crucifixion of Jesus.

5. Muslims often quote very liberal or skeptical sources in trying to contradict traditional Christian faith. For example, the Jesus Seminar people are sometimes quoted as saying that Jesus did not do this or that. But it must be mentioned that even though these people reject the supernatural resurrection, none of them would deny that he was crucified. In fact, many liberal writers think of Jesus as a disillusioned man who thought he was the Son of God and was crucified. Only Muslims regard the crucifixion as a non-event.

Muslims are inclined to believe Mohammed even when all other historical evidence contradicts him. When there are no substantiating items of evidence supporting Mohammed’s view, it is much more reasonable to believe that Mohammed was wrong rather than right when he claimed Jesus was not crucified. When it comes to coherence, it is more credible to believe that Mohammed was wrong, rather than right. From the standpoint of a test of truth, the claim of Muslims is incoherent, therefore, to be considered false.

We can turn to the third test of truth, the pragmatic test, in which that which works is true. The Muslims believe that victories over the Christians in moving from Arabia to conquer much of the Christian world proved that they were doing the will of Allah in waging jihad.

Mohammed led in a number of battles, and organized many others. The men of the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayzah were beheaded, up to 900, before their wives and children, the women were raped and Mohammed declared it to be the judgement of Allah (Qur’an 33:25). His successors were more violent. Under Omar, the second Caliph (634-44) they conquered Syria, Jerusalem fell in 638, Egypt fell in 641, Persia by 649, Asia Minor by 652, and only turned back by Martel in France in 732. Along the way, the "peaceful" Muslims killed thousands of men, and sold the women and children into slavery, or took the women as concubines. In 781, 7000 Greek prisoners of war were enslaved after a battle of Ephesus. In 903, after the capture of Thessalonica, 22,000 Christians were sold into Muslim slavery.

Muslims believe that these victories prove that Islam is true. But has it raised human well being, has it been good for mankind? The only honest answer is really no. One could pose the question whether Muslims want to accept "power implies truth" only in the case of Muslims, or whether they accept this generally. Does this mean that in the 19th century Islam ceased to be true and Christianity becomes true when the "Christian empires" of the West during the time of colonialism ruled Islamic countries? To this day, Western countries are more powerful. Does it mean their religion is therefore true? No Muslim will accept this, and therefore he proves his own argument to be illogical.

Other situations in which Islam has had a very negative and destructive effect are:

1. Forced conversions.

The Muslim attitude is to submit or else face slavery or death. Forced conversions are a farce. Only an evil deity would welcome forced conversions. Muslims believe that Allah is a god who teaches man to hate his enemies and destroy them if they will not agree with them. On the other hand, Jesus said, "You have heard people say, ‘Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you." (Matthew 5:44) One must decide which view of God is true on the basis of the coherence and pragmatic tests of truth.

2. Position of Women.

The position of women in the Qur’an and Islam reflects a sexist attitude demeaning to women. The Qur’an and the Hadiths portray a picture of women as being inferior to men, in terms of intellect, of inheritance, veracity, and the hope of life in Paradise.

In the case of intellect woman’s mind is viewed as deficient. The tradition that is preserved has Mohammed saying, "The prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said, "Isn’t the witness of a women equal to half of that of a man?" The women said, "Yes." He said, "This is because of the deficiency of her mind."3 In the case of inheritance women were to receive half as much as a man, in the case of a witness, it required two women to equal the testimony of a man, and there was little hope for women in Paradise since Mohammed claimed to have a vision of hell and the majority of those in it were women. Other issues such as beating a wife are discussed in a number of articles on Answering-Islam (1, 2) and there is no need to duplicate them here.

Contrary to Mohammed’s prejudice against women, women can be brilliant, accomplished, and trustworthy. I have seen many women who are more intelligent than many men, many who are more dependable than many men, and women who have accomplished many things that men could not. Presently there are said to be over one billion Muslims in the world. What a great tragedy that over 500 million women are denied the privilege of using their intellect for the good of mankind. What a huge loss to the world!

The fact that women are virtually imprisoned within the house, or the garment covering their entire body in hot climates, and are subject to beatings by their disgruntled husbands points to something very wrong in Muslim doctrine. Women who have been raped in Muslim countries have little recourse in the courts since they may be charged with adultery and killed while the man goes free, as has been reported in recent news releases. The Qur’an says, "Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for God’s guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish, banish them to their couches, and beat them…." (4:34)

The subjugation of women goes contrary to human dignity. It is a man’s world and women are used, abused, and accused. The position of women in Islam has not passed the pragmatic truth test. Rather than substantiating its claim to be the imparter and protector of moral values, it points to a tremendous moral failing in Muslim doctrine.

3. Slavery

Mohammed had many slaves, male and female. Slavery is a permanent institution in Islam. It existed in Islam long before the New World was discovered. It still exists in the Muslim culture. In 1990 it was estimated that l00,000 "full-time" slaves and 300,000 half-slaves were held by Arab-Mauritanians. There are an estimated 43,000 slaves in Niger. A recent pronouncement by a Saudi imam assured the world that slavery is a part of Islam.

The Qur’an uses a phrase, "Let those your right hands own" to refer to slaves. There are over 100 references to slaves in the Qur’an. While slavery was practiced in the Old Testament, it was a short-term period. The slaves were to be released at the end of 7 years. In Christianity the equality of all people, male, female, slave, or free, (Galatians 3:28) brought about the end of slavery in the West even though it was slow in coming. The doctrine was there for its abolition from the beginning.

4. Science.

"As recently as the mid-1980’s, concerned Muslim intellectuals lamented the fact that modern science had not taken root in the Islamic countries of the world with the consequence that there is no Islamic Hong Kong, Singapore, or Japan."4 Science is the weakest in Muslim countries because science is perceived as being un-Islamic. People interested in science are thought to be taking the first step toward impiety and heresy. In 1985 Muslims with an interest in science founded the Muslim Association for the Advancement of Science. "All scientific ideas must be shown to be consistent with, if not derived from, the Sharia." This creates the necessity of trying to find the Big Bang theory in the Qur’an.

Toby Huff has sketched the rise of science in Islam, China, and the West. There are a number of ideas that Islam has harbored that made it impossible for science to develop.

First, the natural sciences are called "foreign sciences" in Islam. Islamic science related to the study of the Qur’an, the hadiths, legal knowledge drawn from those two sources, theology, poetry, and the Arabic language.5 An individual Muslim scholar may have had a secret interest in the natural science, and may have taught them depending on the possible freedom of the times he lived in. There are many Muslim thinkers, however, who were opposed to the natural sciences. The general attitude existed in Islam that what is important can be found in the Qur’an and what was not in the Qur’an is not important. The pursuit of science was regarded as a "tainted enterprise." However, those sciences that had a direct bearing on Islamic practices did have support. For example, math was important for dividing inheritances, astronomy was important for knowing the various times of prayer.

Second, the natural sciences rest "on certain assumptions about the regularity and lawfulness of the natural world and the presumption that man is capable of grasping this underlying structure. In addition to subscribing to the notion of laws of nature modern science is a metaphysical system which asserts that man, unaided by spiritual agencies or divine guidance, is single-handedly capable of understanding and grasping the laws that govern man and the universe."6

The belief that Allah is absolutely sovereign and bound by nothing made it impossible to develop a scientific attitude in Islam. Allah is absolutely free and can do whatever he wills. To believe in the laws of nature would be a limitation of Allah’s freedom. Allah does not have to be consistent. However, without consistence there can be no scientific endeavor. Science becomes impossible. Discovering the laws of nature was foundational to science.

In contrast to Islam, the Christian idea of God, along with the view of Aristotle, about the rationality of man and the universe, made science possible. He created the universe and the universe reflects His rationality. The universe is predictable and consistent. Science is based on this predictability.

Third, Education was related to attaching oneself to a teacher who would dictate his thoughts to the student who would copy them and memorize them. A student may go to a number of teachers and gain a permission (ijazas) to teach. A student may have a number of ijazas. Memorization and transmission of texts was a standard way of education. It should be noted that moveable type was invented in China in the 11th century and Islam knew of it before the West, but did not use it to disseminate knowledge. In fact, the printing press was banned by the Muslims in 1455 after the German Bible (Gutenberg’s) was printed. The ban was not lifted until the early nineteenth century.7

In contrast to personal instruction by a single teacher in Islam, the west developed a legal concept called the corporation, a legal entity that is like an individual that can be sued and sue, that had freedom like a person. The development of the university as a corporation gave it protection, and brought together a group of scholars whose aim was to be a "friend" of truth. At bottom was a commitment to organized skepticism as a means of searching for truth.

The core curriculum of study was the works of Aristotle in particular in which "principles, causes, or elements" are the basis of understanding the natural world.

Meanwhile, in the Islamic world, the Qur’an was never questioned or criticized. If you are condemned to death for questioning the Qur’an, science will never develop. Even if it can show that there is error in the Qur’an it will not be accepted because the Qur’an is believed a priori to be infallible.

There are some things erroneously attributed to Muslim thinkers such as the invention of the zero. What we call Arabic numbers really originated in pre-Islamic India. The anti-science attitude in Islam is reflected in the example of Sheik Abdel-Aziz Ibn Baaz, a Muslim authority in Saudi Arabia, who issued an edict declaring that the world is flat. He declared that people who believe that it is round should be punished. "Although better-educated Saudis regard him as quaint at best – bin Baaz has proclaimed the Earth to be flat, banned singing as un-Islamic and prescribed the precise width for corridors through which men and women might pass at the same time – he holds a position of unassailable authority that the ruling family cannot ignore."8

In conclusion, Muslims have a real problem when it comes to the issue of truth. Simply claiming that something is true because Mohammed said it closes the Muslim mind to any rational objective consideration of truth. In effect, Islam has to reject the major tests of truth because of its acceptance of Mohammed as the arbiter of truth.



1 For first time readers, PHUB is short for Peace Be Upon Him, referring to Mohammed and sometimes others like Jesus (cf. PBUH).

2 Lysenko came to the attention of Stalin and by Stalin’s power drove orthodox geneticist underground. Lysenko believed that soaking winter wheat seeds in ice water would permanently change a winter wheat strain to a spring wheat. Lysenko was a fraud, but he had the power of Stalin supporting him.

3 Sahih Al-Bukhari, Dr. Muhammed Matraji, tr. (New Delhi: Islamic Book Service, 2002), Number 2658. Quoted in David Wood, “Banish Them to their Beds and Scourge them!

4 Toby E. Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science (Cambridge: University Press, 1999), p. 235.

5 Ibid., p. 52.

6 Ibid., p.65.

7 Ibid., p. 225

8 Susan Sachs, “Saudis Clash Over Piety and Power,” Newsday, May 31, 1991, Friday, p. 15.

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