Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

What is the basis for Islam?

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D

Why should anyone accept Islam?  What are justifications for acceptance?

Let’s look at two important figures in the history of mankind.  First, there is Moses.  Moses was a nobody who claimed he was called by Yahweh to liberate his people from Egypt.  His was a reluctant role to begin with and he was certainly concerned that people would not believe him.

Moses posed  the right question at the beginning.  “Moses asked the LORD, "Suppose everyone refuses to listen to my message, and no one believes that you really appeared to me?"” (Exodus 4:1)  Yahweh began to show Moses the power of his commission.  Moses’ walking stick was turned into a snake, and then back again. Then Moses was commanded to put his hand in his shirt and when he withdrew it there was leprosy.  He put his hand again in his shirt and when he withdrew it his hand was normal.   A reluctant Moses obeyed and returned to Egypt and after the plagues were pronounced upon Egypt the people were freed from slavery.  Yahweh did something to affirm that Moses was indeed sent as a leader and he succeeded.

The second person is Jesus.  The Old Testament has many references to a coming Messiah. Jesus claimed these for Himself. There is one that Muslims need to read in Isaiah 9:6, “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”   There are many other prophecies concerning the Messiah.  Yet there was a great deal of rejection on the part of the leadership of Israel when Jesus appeared.  Jesus backed up his claims by doing miracles that no one else could do.  The gospel account tells of John the Baptist questioning about Jesus, “John was in prison when he heard what Christ was doing. So John sent some of his followers to ask Jesus, "Are you the one we should be looking for? Or must we wait for someone else?"  Jesus answered, "Go and tell John what you have heard and seen.   The blind are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People with leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news.   God will bless everyone who doesn't reject me because of what I do."” (Matthew 11:2-6)

This summary statement gives an indication of the miracles that Jesus did.  Not included in these statements are the virgin birth of Jesus himself as well as the resurrection of Jesus from death.

The resurrection from the death also confirms Jesus’ claim of being the Son of God as well as the gospel to be preached about Him.

In comparison, what can we say about Mohammed?   Mohammed proclaimed to people in the beginning that he was only “a warner” calling people to give up polytheism for monotheism. “Lo! We have sent thee (O Muhammad) with the truth, a bringer of glad tidings and a warner.” (2:119)

There were no miracles performed.  There was nothing to vindicate his message as in the case of Moses and Jesus. Why believe him?

If a person appears preaching a certain message the first question one asks is: why should I believe it?  There are all kinds of wackos in history who have claimed they were prophets but who were certainly false prophets deceiving people either for money or for sex.  What is there about Mohammed that makes him credible?  The two examples above were related to miracles performed in the presence of many witnesses.   Mohammed did nothing of this.  The claim that the Qur’an is a miracle lacks evidence.  The miracles of Moses and Jesus were things that only the power of Yahweh could do.  There is nothing miraculous about a book. Please check the following links for more on this issue.

Later Corruption of the Text of the Qur'an?
Is the Qur'an Miraculous?
The Challenge of the Quran
What the Qur'an Says About the Bible
Can we argue from a corrupted source?
The Quran Testifies To Its Own Textual Corruption

Lots of books were written before Mohammed and after Mohammed and most of the authors did not claim they were a miracle.   Even the content of the Qur’an does not warrant any special attention.  The only really new items in the Qur’an are the claims that Mohammed is a prophet and the concept of jihad. Much of the Qur’an is not revelation at all but stories and ideas taken from the Bible, Jewish folk tales, Christian apocryphal books, Sabean practices, and ideas from Zorasterianism.

One cannot help but conclude that much of the Qur’an was made up from various sources, even conversations with friends as quoted below.

One of the major authors of Hadith literature gives the following tradition with reference to this verse and other similar occasions where Umar's advices promptly became part of the developing revelation:

Narrated Anas: "Umar said, 'I agreed with Allah in three things', or said, 'My Lord agreed with me in three things. I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Would that you took the station of Abraham as a place of prayer". I also said, "O Allah's Apostle! Good and bad persons visit you! Would that you ordered the Mothers of the believers to cover themselves with veils". So the Divine Verses of Al-Hijab (i.e. veiling of the women) were revealed. I came to know that the Prophet had blamed some of his wives so I entered upon them and said, "You should either stop (troubling the Prophet) or else Allah will give his Apostle better wives than you". When I came to one of his wives, she said to me, "O Umarl Does Allah's Apostle not have what he could advise his wives with, that you try to advise them?" Thereupon Allah revealed: "It may be, if he divorced you (all) his Lord will give him instead of you, wives better than you muslims (who submit to Allah) . . ." (66.5)'. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p. 11-12)

One cannot help being struck by the words "My Lord agreed with me in three things". The striking feature of all these incidents is not only the fact that Allah gave the same advice to Muhammad that Umar had given, but also that he always gave it just after Umar in each case. The coincidences are found not only in the content of the revelations but also in the timing of their disclosure! It seems that Umar's advices struck Muhammad as particularly sound and, in his own subjective way, he allowed them to be formed in his mind in the form which all the other "revelations" were coming to him and correspondingly declared them to be such. (Source)

One other consideration relates to the issue that Mohammed sought to identify his god with the Allah of the Pagan Meccans as well as with the God of the Jews and Christians (to attract both to his faith). For those interested in the identity of the pre-Islamic Allah at Mecca check out this series (1, 2, 3, 4). On the other hand, the character of Allah (the god) is quite different from the character of Yahweh making it difficult to claim that they are the same.

There are several things to reflect on concerning Mohammed and his time.  Mohammed was invited to Medina where they were more open to his message.  However, there were three tribes of Jews who were not convinced he was a prophet.  The religion  of the majority  in Medina was paganism, polytheistic worship of many gods.  Many of the people were ignorant of the Living God and were probably traditional in their religious acts rather than being critical in their thinking.   Can we think of the ignorance of the people bringing them to be gullible to Mohammed’s teaching?  Certainly many in Mecca were opposed to Mohammed and questioned why they should listen to him.  He received much more of a hearing after he was militarily successful. When Mohammed conquered Mecca with his troops this was impressive, but not miraculous.  Islam may have been accepted out of desperation rather than conviction because of the invaders.

In essence, Mohammed did nothing to confirm his role as a prophet.  He did not call the people back to the Law that was revealed to Moses, or to the Gospel of Jesus.   Rationally, one can easily reject Mohammed as a false prophet. Given the character flaws of Mohammed one must certainly question his claim to being a prophet. (1, 2, 3).

The second major issue for rationality and evidence relates to sharia law and how it came to be.  There is so little in the Qur’an to relate to life except for jihad.  Mohammed died in 632 AD.  In the period following his death there was disagreement about who should succeed Mohammed. This created the Sunni/Shia schism that exists to the present time and is the cause of violence and death against each other.  As the Muslim armies invaded different cultures they needed laws that would be consistent with Arabian culture.  Muslims began collecting stories about Mohammed, hadiths or traditions, and putting together what became Sharia law. A number of imams formulated the Muslim principles of jurisprudence.  1) Imam Abu Hanifa (699-767), poisoned by Caliph Al Mansur,  2) Imam Shafi’i (767-820), imprisoned by Caliph Harun ar-Rashid,  3) Imam Malik (712-795), punished, hand severed by Caliph Al Mansur,  4) Imam Hanbal (778-855), imprisoned for fifteen years by Caliphs Mamun ar-Rashid, Al Mutasim, and Al Wasiq,  5) Imam Jafaar Sadiq, a Shi’ite imam,  poisoned in prison by Caliph Al Mansur, 6) Imam Musa Kazim,  a Shi’ite imam, poisoned in  prison by Caliph Harun ar-Rashid  and (7) Imam Bukhari (810-870), exiled to Samarkhand by governor of Bukhara.

Unfortunately for most of the imams, they met a terrible death at the hands of the Caliphs in spite of the fact that one of the imams had written that Caliphs were not bound by the law in the case of committing adultery, robbery, theft, or drinking. (See this article; also,  Nonie Darwish, Cruel and Usual Punishment, NY: Thomas Nelson, 2008, p. 21-22; this (the second paragraph from the end) and this.)

Sharia law appears to give total control to the ruler over the people.  It may be said that dictators in the Muslim lands fear nothing so much as radical Muslims from the Islamic Brotherhood and groups like Al-Qaida.  However, merely swapping dictators does not improve conditions for people.  The position of women under Sharia law will be worse than before.  The power of the ruler is expressed in the codified law as follows:

“The head of an Islamic State cannot be charged, let alone be punished for theft, murder, robbery, adultery and drinking (Hudood cases) – Codified Islamic Law Vol 3 # 914C and  page 188 of Hedaya, the Hanafi manual. This law alone turns the whole Sharia doctrine upside down.”  (Source)

The collection of stories about Mohammed relate to what he did, what he rejected, what he accepted, how he lived.   Two verses reflect the importance of imitating Mohammed:

If you love Allah, then follow me (Muhammad)  (Sura 3:31 Shakir)

Ye have indeed in the Apostle of Allah a beautiful pattern of (conduct) for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day.  (Sura 33:21 Yusuf Ali)

As I read this verse it is lacking in detail and Muslims may read more into it than it bears. Sura 3:31 as quoted does not give a basis for embracing the hadiths.  When the Qur’an was written there were no hadiths to follow.  This verse must not be used to support the hadiths. There were none collected.   Hilali-Khan translates, "If you (really) love Allah then follow me (i.e. accept Islamic Monotheism, follow the Qur'an and the Sunnah),” but there was no written hadiths at the time, only what followers observed and knew in Mohammed’s life time. But this knowledge, or information, is the basis for the later hadith collections. Hadiths are only the collection of these observations, narrations of what Muhammad said and did in his life time (in the orthodox understanding). Whether this claim or understanding is true, is a second question. The phrase “follow me” cannot mean much in itself except to follow Mohammed in accepting Islam, or following Mohammed in making war against his enemies, or follow Mohammed in having many wives, etc.

Since there were no hadiths when the Qur’an was composed one should not appeal to them since they did not exist when Mohammed said this. However, one could certainly view 33:21 as an incentive or motivation to carefully observe Muhammad’s life and start collecting his words and deeds from then onwards. Of course while Mohammed was alive he could be imitated.  The question arises then about the credibility of claims that he was to be imitated.  The question arises then about the credibility of each individual reported saying and action in which he supposedly was to be imitated. With hundreds of thousands of hadiths being forged or created by admirers it is difficult to know what is really historical in the claims about Mohammed.  In fact, in this modern period there are people beginning to raise questions whether Mohammed really existed.

The second reference, Sura 33:21   lays down the command to follow Muhammad in everything he does. It makes him the role model – and his followers could observe him and stories of what he did and said certainly circulated among the Muslims early on. There was no codified written collection at that time, but that does not subtract from this powerful command.   As before the question must be raised about the stories and their historical value.

At the same time one may raise a question about all the other stuff that Mohammed was involved in that was not beautiful.  One need only think of the wars against caravans, assassinations against his critics, allowing the raping of women, killing of the Jews, and other terrible deeds.  His followers still practice much of this. There are no more caravans with animals but there are supply lines to troops in Afghanistan.

The implication of the Sunna is spelled out below:

“Whatever Muhammad did or said, therefore, becomes the basis from which to model all life and belief.  What must be understood regarding the Sunna is that it is equally important to the Muslim as the Quran.  This is because it is the Sunna that interprets the Quran.  Without the Sunna, the Quran cannot be properly understood.  In fact, many aspects and practices of the Islamic religion are not even mentioned in the Quran but are found only in the Sunna.  So, it is both the Quran and the Sunna that together form the basis for the beliefs and practices of Muslims everywhere.  In this sense, both the Quran and the Sunna are believed to be inspired and authoritative.” (Source; bold letters are mine)

This process raises many issues for our thinking.  First, the hadiths are not sacred revelation from Allah.  There is no basis for claiming this since none of the writers of the hadiths were prophets or inspired by Allah.  If Mohammed is the prophet of revelation, then only what Mohammed revealed is revelation.  These stories are not revelation since most of them are fraudulent.  But more important they do not come in the manner that revelation came to Mohammed as described by Aisha below.

Would a Muslim want to follow something that was not revelation?   These stories should have no authority in the life of the Muslim.  Should made-up stories be the basis for understanding the Qur’an? Moreover, why follow the views of some old men who did not have the Qur’an to back up their views?

Second, it is said that at the time of Bukhari, there were over 600,000 hadiths.  E. K. Ahamed Kutty of the University of Calicut, India, in speaking of the collection made by Bukhari, says,

"He took into consideration 600,000 Traditions out of which he accepted only 7,397, or according to some authorities, 7,295. The same tradition is often repeated more than once under different chapters. Disregarding these repetitions, the number of distinct Hadith is reduced to 2,762."[3] "The Six Authentic Books of hadith", The Muslim World League Journal, April-May 1983, p. 20.  (As quoted here.)

Since most of these are fabrications based on glorifying Mohammed or in some cases it might be assumed denigrating the prophet, how can one rationally put any trust in the hadiths?

Consider the fact that Mohammed died in 632, the earliest collector of hadiths was Imam Abu Hanifa who was born 699 and died 767. Imam Bukhari was born in 810 and died in 870.  Imam Shafi’i lived from 767 to 820.  None of these imams knew Mohammed.  They only knew  or hada been told  stories about him of which most of them were unreliable.  With this fact in mind we can raise the question: why would Muslims want to obey rules and regulations that are not revelation? Moreover, why would Muslims want to obey the rules of men who did not know Mohammed? Even yet, why would Muslims today want to regulate their lives by rules laid out by men who were living in past centuries?  One further question needs to be raised: “why make his life a model at all?”

One might well ask what is so special about Mohammed that people should imitate his life style?

Why not imitate Jesus instead?  Jesus did not declare jihad against the non-believers.  Jesus did not confirm polygamy but declared that one man and one woman make up marriage and this was the way it was from the Creation of man.  Jesus did not send people forth to conquer the world but to invite them into the Kingdom of God where they would find forgiveness for their sins and peace in their hearts, now, and everlasting life in His presence after death.  Yes, why not imitate Jesus?

In the case of Mohammed, what is one to imitate?  There are only so many ways one can eat and drink. There are many conversations that Mohammed had which are not revelation.  There were revelations that came in a certain fashion as described by Aisha.  “Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) sweated in cold weather when revelation descended upon him.” (Sahih Muslim, Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, tr., Number 5763)  Another hadith, “Aisha reported: When revelation descended upon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) even during the cold days, his forehead perspired.”  (Sahih Muslim, Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, tr., Number 5764) One more, “Aisha reported that Harith bin Hisham asked Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him): How does the wahi (inspiration) come to you? He said: At times it comes to me like the ringing of a bell and that is most severe for me and when it is over I retain that (what I had received in the form of wahi), and at times an Angel in the form of a human being comes to me (and speaks) and I retain whatever he speaks.”  (Sahih Muslim, Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, tr. Number 5765)

These reports may raise some kind of psychological analysis for many but more serious is the question whether Mohammed knew the difference between Allah and Satan.  There is the issue of the “Satanic verses.”  Ibn Ishaq, one of the earliest biographers of Mohammed, describes the event in which Mohammed was discouraged and was in a conversation with some of the Quraysh tribe members. 

Then God sent down "By the star when it sets your comrade errs not and is not deceived, he speaks not from his own desire," and when he reached His words "Have you thought of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat the third, the other", Satan, when he was meditating upon it, and desiring to bring it to his people, put upon his tongue "these are the exalted Gharaniq [Numidian cranes] whose intercession is approved." When the Quraysh heard that, they were delighted and greatly pleased at the way in which he spoke of their gods and they listened to him; while the believers were holding that what their prophet brought them from their Lord was true, not suspecting a mistake or a vain desire or a slip, and when he reached the prostration and the end of the Sura in which he prostrated himself the Muslims prostrated themselves when their prophet prostrated confirming what he brought and obeying his command, and the polytheists of Quraysh and others who were in the mosque prostrated when they heard the mention of their gods, so that everyone in the mosque believer and unbeliever prostrated . . . Then the people dispersed and the Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their gods, saying, "Muhammad has spoken of our gods in splendid fashion. He alleged in what he read that they are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved."

The news reached the prophet’s companions who were in Abyssinia, it being reported that Quraysh had accepted Islam, so some men started to return while others remained behind. Then Gabriel came to the apostle and said, "What have you done, Muhammad? You have read to these people something I did not bring you from God and you have said what He did not say to you." The apostle was bitterly grieved and was greatly in fear of God. So God sent down (a revelation), for He was merciful to him, comforting him and making light of the affair and telling him that every prophet and apostle before him desired as he desired and wanted what he wanted and Satan interjected something into his desires as he had on his tongue. So God annulled what Satan had suggested and God established His verses, i.e. you are just like the prophets and apostles. Then God sent down: "We have not sent a prophet or apostle before you but when he longed Satan cast suggestions in his longing. But God will annul what Satan has suggested. Then God will establish his verses, God being knowing and wise." (Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Mohammed, pp. 165-166.)

This is a very interesting story.  It raises the issue of the credibility of Mohammed as a prophet.  He seemed not able to distinguish between Allah and Satan.  There is the attempt to dismiss the seriousness of the situation by projecting Mohammed’s error on the prophets and apostles of the past.

There is no basis for this in the Bible.  Certainly there were false prophets who were denounced by Yahweh for giving false messages, but this denunciation came from the true prophets who were true to the Torah.

The passage raises more problems than it solves.  Not only is Mohammed not to be trusted, but anyone claiming to be a prophet must not be trusted. This hadith introduces false information about the prophets and apostles before Mohammed as a way of down-playing the severity of Mohammed’s role as a reliable prophet. If Mohammed was deceived so easily how can one know when he is not being deceived and deceiving others.

There is a statement by Mohammed to Muhammad ibn Maslama that he could lie to deceive a man named Ka’b, who was a critic of Mohammed, in order to kill him.  “The apostle said "All that is incumbent upon you is that you should try". He said "O apostle of God, we shall have to tell lies". He answered "Say what you like, for you are free in the matter".” (Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Mohammed, p. 367).  It is a simple matter of reflection to think that Mohammed may have lied to get what he wanted.  If you lie in issues like the death of an enemy what about lying about the whole issue of being a prophet? What better way to gain power over people than through lying to them?

The issue of lying has its model in Mohammed and is applied to other situations by his followers. Imam Al-Ghazali, one of the most famous Muslim theologians and philosophers of all time, takes the permissibility of lying even further.  To Ghazali, lying is permissible so long as virtually any positive or beneficial goal may be achieved:

“Speaking is a means to achieve objectives.  If a praiseworthy aim is attainable through both telling the truth and lying, it is unlawful to accomplish through lying because there is no need for it.  When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible.  (emphasis mine)

“Know this that lying is not sin by itself, but if it brings harm to you it could be ugly.  However, you can lie if that will keep you from evil or if it will result in prosperity.  (emphasis mine)   (Source; see also this article; emphasis is that of the author of the source)

Now back to the matter of imitating Mohammed.  It strikes me as absurd to regard his mannerism, ordinary speech, and other habits as something to impose on succeeding generations. There is a difference between ordinary speech and advice and revelation.   The comment that his soldiers could have sex with captive women immediately is advice not revelation.  If every word Mohammed spoke is regarded as revelation a few things become obvious:  1) this contradicts Aisha’s description of his revelatory experiences (see above)  and  2)  the Qur’an is not a complete revelation because much of Mohammed’s speech has been lost.  3)  If the hadiths are supposed to give us examples of Mohammed’s activities as well as his speech, the sad truth is that most of them are fraudulent.   Mohammed’s comments have brought terrible devastation to women through the centuries.  His misguided advice has been followed and brought misery and death to many women.

4) The Qur’an itself claims to be the one and only hadith.

“… Which Hadith, beside this, do they believe in?” S. 7:185 Khalifa

“These are GOD's revelations that we recite to you truthfully. In which Hadith other than GOD and His revelations do they believe?” S. 45:6 Khalifa

“Which Hadith, other than this, do they uphold?” S. 77:50 Khalifa

“Among the people, there are those who uphold baseless Hadith, and thus divert others from the path of GOD without knowledge, and take it in vain. These have incurred a shameful retribution.” S. 31:6 Khalifa

“GOD has revealed herein the best Hadith; a book that is consistent, and points out both ways (to Heaven and Hell). The skins of those who reverence their Lord cringe therefrom, then their skins and their hearts soften up for GOD's message. Such is GOD's guidance; He bestows it upon whoever wills (to be guided). As for those sent astray by GOD, nothing can guide them.” S. 39:23 Khalifa  

5) “The real Sunna is not that of Mohammed but that of Allah.  The other major problem with this assertion is that the Quran never explicitly mentions any Sunna of Muhammad but only the Sunna of Allah:

“(Such was Our) Sunna (Sunnata) in the case of those whom We sent before thee (to mankind), and thou wilt not find for Our Sunna (li-sunnatina) aught of power to change.” S. 17:77

“That was the Sunna of Allah (Sunnata Allahi) in the case of those who passed away of old; thou wilt not find for the Sunna of Allah (li-sunnati Allahi) aught of power to change.” S. 33:62

“behaving proudly in the land and in planning evil; and the evil plans shall not beset any save the authors of it. Then should they wait for aught except the sunna of the former people? For you shall not find any alteration in the sunna of Allah (li-sunnati Allahi); and you shall not find any change in the sunna of Allah (li-sunnati Allahi).” S. 35:43

6) According to Muslim authorities Muhammad expressly forbade anyone from writing down his hadiths. The reason why he supposedly did this was to insure that his words would not get mixed in or confused with the Quran.”  [Material relating to items 4) - 6) is drawn from Sam Shamoun’s  article "How Muhammad’s Sunna Trumps Allah’s Book".]

Muslim scholars admit that most of the hadiths are not authentic.  Moreover, they are not revelation.  So how did all of these things come into existence?  What kind of agenda did the unknown authors have in creating these stories?    Let me create a scenario that is possible.

Somewhere a disgruntled sour old man did not like music.  It probably irritated him because there was no joy in his life.  So he created this story about Mohammed in an effort to get rid of music.

"Those who listen to music and songs in this world will on the Day of Judgment have molten lead poured into their ears."  Not only has this hadith influenced people to avoid music, it has brought about the destruction of musical instruments by the Taliban and deaths of musicians and the threat of death to musicians.   (Cf. Jihad Watch,  Sept. 24, 2011)

The most important issue in life is the question – how can I know God?   Islam tells a story about a man who claimed to be the final prophet, but who did not do any miracles to confirm his calling.

The Muslim is encouraged to do good works to win Allah’s favor, but there is the big issue of Allah’s predestining people to hell in spite of their good works.

7:178-179  “He whom Allah leadeth, he indeed is led aright, while he whom Allah sendeth astray - they indeed are losers. Already have We urged unto hell many of the jinn and humankind, having hearts wherewith they understand not, and having eyes wherewith they see not, and having ears wherewith they hear not. These are as the cattle - nay, but they are worse! These are the neglectful.”  (For an article on predestination go here. (Source)

Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and that is a high claim indeed, but he did awesome miracles to verify this claim.   Jesus called people to repent of their sins and believe in Him as Savior.  Jesus did something Mohammed could not do.  He gave us the promise of everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.   Jesus brought the gift of God’s Spirit now in the life of the believer along with joy, peace, and confidence.   If you want everlasting life you have to give your life to Jesus now.