Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

On the value of questioning and other things

A Rebuttal to Bassam Zawadi

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

I recently came across a rebuttal to an article I had written on "The Real Difference Between Islam and Christian Faith" which appeared on (here). The rebuttal was by Bassam Zawadi and is found on his website (here).

I had written: "So much of what I read from Muslims involves the goal of destroying credibility for Christian faith. There is much written by Christians to refute Muslim claims. For the moment, let’s not go to either option. Let’s just look at the real issue of what is going to happen to you and me when we die."

Bassam wrote: "How can we ignore the two options momentarily when the outcome of the debate exchanges determines the real issue (of what is going to happen to you and me when we die)? How are we going to know what is going to happen to us if we don’t know the truth? One crucial way to know it is by seeing whose claims are stronger and accepting them as true."

My Response:

I was trying to avoid lots of questions about the truth of the Qur’an such as whether the sun sets in a puddle of mud, or whether one wing of the fly has an antidote for the other wing, or the fictions quoted in the Qur’an about the youths who slept for 300 years, and other historical errors in the Qur’an, etc. You remember that Deedat slandered the death and resurrection of Jesus calling it the "cruci–fiction." Deedat was trying to make a historical verified event of the crucifixion a fiction. Muslims seek to make verifiable fictions into fact.

I wrote, "Often Muslims are discouraged from asking questions about ideas in the Qur’an that bother them. One should not question Allah!"

Bassam wrote:

"Dallas is not making himself clear here as to exactly what kind of questions are Muslims discouraged to ask. There are certain questions that Islam discourages or even forbids from asking such as "Who created Allah", how did Allah create the universe from nothing? I refuse to believe it unless I know how! Etc. This kind of thinking is discouraged since this causes the person to have doubts in his faith. He is asking about things, which he will never get the answers to until he meets God Himself. However, the Muslim is other wise not only encouraged to seek knowledge and how can this be done besides asking questions about things that one does not know or understand? So Dallas has to make himself a little clearer about what he means here."

My response:

There are all kinds of questions that Muslims have been discouraged from asking.

Forbidding any question to be asked opens the door to forbidding lots of questions. There are reasonable answers that a child can understand in dealing with "who created Allah?" When you don’t allow questions to be asked you force doubt into the sub-conscious and it doesn’t go away.

The history of Islam has been one of anti-intellectualism. Islam inherited a vast body of information from the Greeks, but eventually did little with it. The answer is found in the educational system of early and later Islam.

Very early in the history of Islam knowledge was divided into two categories: 1) "Islamic science which included the study of the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet, legal knowledge (fiqh), theology (kaalam), poetry, and the Arabic language." 2) the natural sciences which were called the foreign sciences. As time went on the natural sciences were viewed as "a tainted enterprise." (Toby Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West, Cambridge U. Press, 1995, p. 68. All quotes following are from Huff as well.)

People who were at risk because of their studies in the natural sciences concealed their interests because they would be considered an impious person. (p. 69) The people who studied the Islamic sciences periodically denounced those who were studying the natural sciences.

The madrasas began to appear in the 11th century and were schools of Islamic sciences and rejected the natural sciences. Religious scholars regarded the natural sciences with suspicion.

Moreover, the educational system favored rote memory rather than critical thinking. When a student had memorized, or copied, or read the manuscripts available from his professor he was given an ijaza, an approval to teach others the same content.

It was presumed that memorized statements were true and could be learned without any process of thinking about the truth or falsehood of the statements.

Within the medieval Islamic intellectual life was the sharp distinction between the elite and the novice. The elite believed that the ordinary citizens, the commoners, were not capable of understanding the higher truths of philosophy or the Scripture. Averroes maintained that "a believer will know that to discuss those (philosophical) questions openly is forbidden by the Holy Law." (p. 82)

The conclusion of the matter is that reason was to be rejected for submission to Islamic law. There could be no criticism of Mohammed, the Qur’an, or the whole complex of Islamic science. In contrast, the West was influenced by the idea that man is created in the image of God and is therefore rational, and thereby can gain truth, a knowledge of good and evil by rational means. Man has a conscience in which he can make judgments and arrive at the truth. Islam did not develop a sense of conscience as the Greeks did, and as the New Testament taught, and therefore submission was the only path one could take.

"The greatest philosophical thinkers in Arabic-Islamic civilization after al-Ghazali never failed to cast doubt on the powers of human reason and to disparage the virtues of demonstrative logic; they insisted instead on the priority of faith (fideism) or on the unsurpassed authority of tradition (the Sharia and the Sunna). Reason for the orthodox was little more than common sense, and there was no acknowledgement of the idea that reason could reach new truths unaided by revelation. Innovation, in matters or religion, was equivalent to heresy:" (p. 117)

A general conclusion about knowledge in the Arabic-Islamic world is summed up as follows: "The madrasas were closed to the teaching of science and philosophy, and official Islamic law, fiqh, denied that all men had reason in the Greek and Platonic sense. Nor did Islamic jurisprudence have any place for the idea of conscience, that inner moral agency that could guide the actor in moral dilemmas. Moreover, there was no room for organized skepticism within Islamic thought." (p. 233)

The lack of progress in many ways relates to the model of Mohammed in one of the hadiths. It claimed that "the worst things are those that are novelties, every novelty is an innovation, every innovation is an error and every error leads to Hell-fire: In its extreme form this principle has meant the rejection of every idea and amenity not known in Western Arabic in the time of Mohammed and his companions, and it has been used by successive generations of ultra-conservatives to oppose tables, sieves, coffee and tobacco, printing-presses, and artillery, telephones, wireless, and votes for women." (p. 234)

The fact that there are million upon millions of Muslim today and only 8 have won Nobel prizes in the sciences as compared to nearly 200 Jewish winners reflects upon the issue of the kinds of knowledge that is not taught, nor asked, nor discussed in the Muslim educational system.

So I doubt the truthfulnesss of your statement that "Muslims are not only encouraged but obligated to seek knowledge and how can this be done besides asking questions....." The history of Islam would not validate that statement.

I wrote: "In Islam Allah is viewed as a far off distant God, a being to be feared, who is always ready to punish wrong doers."

Bassam wrote: "Yes Allah is a being who is to be feared, but that does not mean that He is ONLY to be feared. We also have love for Him and put our hope in Him. As for Allah being a "far off distant God," well it depends on what Dallas means over here. If he means that Allah in His essence is far away, then this is correct. Orthodox Muslims don’t believe that Allah is everywhere in His essence. Rather He is outside the universe. But if Dallas means far away in the sense of God having a relationship with His creation and by His knowledge, then this is wrong. The Qur’an seems to teach something to the contrary of this assertion..."

Then you quoted Surah 2:186 and Surah 50:16.

Then you wrote, "Yes, Allah is ready to punish wrongdoers and is also ready to reward the doers of good. So what is the problem exactly?

I respond:

You have raised the question about the nearness and farness of God. I don’t think you are aware of your problem in your statement. You say, "Orthodox Muslims don’t believe that Allah is everywhere in His essence. Rather He is outside the universe." If he is outside the universe how can he be "nearer than his jugular vein." Is he or is he not outside the universe?

So you asked, "so what is the problem exactly?"

The problem is that you have no idea of the kind of relationship that is possible with God.

A relationship for you means obeying the law, observing prayers, Ramadan, knowing Allah’s commands. etc. Are you aware that the Son of God can live in your heart? Are you aware of his continued presence in your life? Have you experienced God in asking him to enter your life, your heart? That is a person to person relationship, not a person to object relationship.

The problem is that you have not thought rationally about your concept of God.

You have not weighed the whole system of what you think is right and what you are doing.

I wrote: "Do you know where you are going? There is no assurance whatever offered in Islam concerning where you will end up. I have heard Muslims say that they are doing good works, trying to live a life pleasing to Allah, but Allah offers no peace, no assurance that they will avoid hell. Their good deeds may never be enough. If you are a woman it is more hopeless."

Bassam responded: "Dallas is seriously distorting what Muslims believe now. First of all, Allah does not break His promise. Surah 3.9 "Our Lord! Thou art He that will gather mankind together against a day about which there is no doubt; for God never fails in His promise." And Allah has promised the Muslims paradise... Surah 4:122, But those who believe and do deeds of righteousness,-we shall soon admit them to gardens, with river flowing beneath, to dwell therein for ever. God’s promise is the truth, and whose word can be truer than God’s?

I respond:

You claim I have distorted Muslim beliefs and you argue that Allah does not break his promise (Surah 3:9) What are some of these promises? Consider the fact that Allah sends people astray–Allah has already decided who is going to paradise and who is not.

In spite of your good works, obedience, trying to live right, it has already been determined whether you are going to paradise or not. You can’t change the situation. All your good works may be a mockery to you.

Perhaps it should be said that you are distorting Muslim beliefs. You are emphasizing the role of good works without regard to the more serious issue of predestination. The apparent emphasis of freedom in doing good works is over-ruled by the decision of Allah who has already decided on who will be admitted to paradise. So which promise is true? If this sura is true, then the conclusion of the matter is that you can do nothing about your destiny.

"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." 7:179 (Pickthall–in the following also.)

"And whomsoever it is Allah's will to guide, He expandeth his bosom unto the Surrender, and whomsoever it is His Will to send astray, He maketh his bosom close and narrow as if he were engaged in sheer ascent. Thus Allah layeth ignominy upon those who believe not." 6:125

"He whom Allah leadeth, he indeed is led aright, while he whom Allah sendeth astray - they indeed are losers." 7:178

"Those whom Allah sendeth astray, there is no guide for them. He leaveth them to wander blindly on in their contumacy." 7:186

"Had Allah willed He could have made you (all) one nation, but He sendeth whom He will astray and guideth whom He will, and ye will indeed be asked of what ye used to do". 16:93

And he whom Allah guideth, he is led aright; while, as for him whom He sendeth astray, for them thou wilt find no protecting friends beside Him, and We shall assemble them on the Day of Resurrection on their faces, blind, dumb and deaf; their habitation will be hell; whenever it abateth, We increase the flame for them." 17:97

"Is he, the evil of whose deeds is made fairseeming unto him so that he deemeth it good, (other than Satan's dupe)? Allah verily sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will; so let not thy soul expire in sighings for them. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do!" 35:8

"Yet he hath led astray of you a great multitude. Had ye then no sense?" 36:62

"Thus Allah sendeth astray whom He will, and whom He will He guideth. None knoweth the hosts of thy Lord save Him. This is naught else than a Reminder unto mortals". 74:31

"And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers." 3:54

What are the possibilities that it is you who has been led astray by Allah? What are the possibilities that you have been led astray in believing that saying prayers 5 times a day, observing Ramadan, giving alms, doing jihad, etc are going to bring you to paradise? What are the possibilities that you may have been led astray in accepting this religion?

Mohammed raised the questions concerning himself.

34:50 Say: ‘If I go astray, I go astray only to my own loss; if I am guided, it is by what my Lord reveals to me. He is All-hearing, Ever-nigh.’ (Arberry)

Say: "If (even) I go astray, I shall stray only to my own loss. But if I remain guided, it is because of the Inspiration of my Lord to me. Truly, He is All-Hearer, Ever Near (to all things)." (Al-Hilali & Khan)

Consider the statement of Mohammed in 34:50. If Mohammed has been led astray it is not really his own loss. This is a contradiction. If Mohammed has been led astray think of all the millions of people who have submitted because of him. Their loss is on his shoulders, is it not?

For more on the role of Allah as a deceiver of both believers and unbelievers, consult this article.

The most pitiful person is the one who does not know he has been deceived and lives like he knows the truth.

Your next question relates to the idea of confidence in going to heaven.

Bassam wrote: "The reason why Muslims say they are not sure they are going to heaven is mainly for two reasons: We are not sure if we are going to become corrupt people later on in the future and stop practicing our religion properly. We do not know the future. The same concept is found in Christianity....1 Corinthians 15.2 "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." Notice the condition that Paul puts. He says IF. Meaning it is possible for someone to leave the faith that he is currently in. How many people claimed to be Christians before and have left Christianity? How do you know you won’t be one of them as well? You do not know the future.

Similarly, Muslims believe that we are going to heaven IF we stick firmly to the teachings of Islam and adhere to the laws set by God. But since we don’t know for sure whether we will be successful in doing so, we say inshallah (if Allah wills) that Allah keeps us on the straight path in order to go to heaven.

2nd reason: "Us Muslims find it too arrogant to come and say, "we are saved, we are going to heaven." Us Muslims are humble people. We say "inshallah(by Allah’s will) we are going to heaven" in order to remind ourselves that everything is under God’s control and that we must continue to put our hope in His mercy. This attitude of "we are saved in Christ, no doubt about it" can possible influence the person to lay back and relax and not to be seriously consistent in serving God since the person believes that he has received what he wants."

My response

First a word about your use of I Corinthians 15. The if in this passage does not express any doubt as to their salvation, nor does it teach that they were saved by holding fast. Rather, Paul is simply stating that if there is no such thing as resurrection, then they weren't saved at all. In other words, those who denied bodily resurrection were launching a frontal attack on the whole truth of the gospel. To Paul, the resurrection was fundamental. Without it there was no Christianity. Thus this verse is a challenge to the Corinthians to hold fast the gospel which they had received in the face of the attacks which were currently being made against it.

You think it to be arrogance to claim that one is going to heaven. It would be arrogance for the Christian to claim that he is going to heaven based on his own good works and religiosity. But that is not the case. The Christian claim of going to heaven is based on what Christ has done for us, not on what we do. This is one of the major differences between Christianity and Islam. The Christian gospel, or good news, is that Jesus, the Son of God, has done something for us that we could not do. His death and resurrection for us is his accomplishment. We have little to accomplish–only to accept it. When you are given a gift you accept it, you don’t pay for it. The gift is not wages earned. You are focusing on winning paradise by your actions. Your good works will not stand up against the standard of a Holy God.

I wrote, "You see, Islam is a religion. Religion involves doing things, saying prayers, keeping rituals. However, Christian faith is not a religion but a restored relationship."

Bassam wrote: I find it interesting to see how Dallas says that Christianity is not a religion. He says that religion involves doing things. So does that mean that in Christianity you don’t have to do anything? (Isn’t belief in Jesus as lord and savior and serving him considered doing a thing?) Dallas also says that religion consists of saying prayers, so does that mean that in Christianity you don’t say prayers? (Don’t Christians say their prayers in church and didn’t Jesus teach the lords prayer in Matthew 6 to his disciples?)

My response:

Your last responses relate to whether Christianity is a religion. You need to broaden your understanding of Christianity and what a religion is. If you read the New Testament you will see that the early Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

Believing in Jesus was to accept Him as Savior. They did not do anything to seek his approval as you are doing for your God. They received Him as one accepts a gift. Religion is the human attempt to win the favor of whatever deity is accepted. Christians don’t do that. They receive God’s gift. Christians accept the favor of God rather than trying to win it themselves.

You previously said, "Muslims believe that we are going to heaven IF we stick firmly to the teachings of Islam and adhere to the laws set by God. But since we don’t know for sure whether we will be successful in doing so, we say inshallah (if Allah wills) that Allah keeps us on the straight path in order to go to heaven." Religion is your attempt to appease Allah. Christian faith stresses that God loves us even while we are yet sinners.

Since you quoted Paul in Corinthians, let me quote him in Romans 5:1-8,

"Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us. For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (ASV)

Please note that God did this for sinners, not the righteous. God did it out of love.

Prayer for the Christian is not rote prayers specified 5 times a day. Prayer is a conversation throughout the day in a spontaneous manner, like talking to a friend. Jesus had some strong words about prayer.

"When you pray, don't be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward. When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you." Matthew 6:5-6.

This is a warning before he taught the people how to pray, that is, the Lord’s Prayer.

You can judge whether calling together hundreds of people saying the same prayers is an example of what Jesus is talking about.

You wrote: "The rest of Dalla’s (sic) statements are just empty words of preaching. He continues to beg the question that Christianity is true and that we should follow it simply because it appears to be easier than following Islam."

My response

Your concluding remark is typical of Muslim apologists that I have read.

If you cannot refute them, ridicule what they have to say. Your claim about "empty words of preaching" is to ignore the great truth of the Gospel that I mentioned. The words of Jesus that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life is not my preaching, but his claim. You can ignore it, but only to your own loss.

Since you felt free to quote Paul as an authority when you want to use him, this gives me the same right to quote him again.

"… Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:6-11 (ESV)

It is not my preaching about the Christian life, but it is the message of the Gospel that you are refusing. You can admit that Jesus is Lord now, but if not, you will later.