Friday, July 08, 2005

Questions about Islam

To Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Professor of Islamic Studies
The George Washington University

Professor Nasr:

I’ve been listening to your Modern Scholar course on Islam and the West, and while I find it interesting and informative, I am nagged with questions that no ordinary Muslim seems able or willing to answer. So I am writing to you in the hope that you can answer my questions.

I am not Muslim in respect to embracing the tenets of the religion of Islam, most particularly not Islamic law and Islam as a political and social regulatory force. However, I am a Muslim in respect to being devoted to a pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness in life, what you might call “doing God’s will,” and I do recognize much good in the religion of Islam. Therefore, I am not an antagonist, I am a sincere student of Islam, and I am eager to learn more about it. In fact, I have read the Qur’an at least once, and much of it several times.

As for my earlier background, I was reared as a Baptist and have studied most of the world’s major religions in some depth. But I do not consider myself to be a Christian. Rather, I am primarily a student of The Urantia Book (for the past 33 years), and I consider myself to be a follower of Jesus, embracing his religion instead of a religion about him.

Now, here are my questions. I encourage you to answer them before reading my comments below:

  1. What are the principles of Jesus’ “gospel”, which Muhammad encouraged all Muslims to embrace? Where are they in the Qur’an?
  2. From whom did Muhammad learn about the gospel and the principles of Christianity?
  3. How do Jesus and Muhammad compare in character and nature, according to the Qur’an and recorded history?
  4. Is every single word in the Qur’an considered to be a sacred recital of words spoken by Gabriel to Muhammad, and if not, what portions are not sacred recitals?

Here are my motives for asking (I shall be expressing my considerations, opinions, and research findings, and I encourage you to correct my misunderstandings):

  1. What is the Gospel?

I have searched both the Bible and the Qur’an for an enumeration of the points of the gospel, and none is there. Both Jesus and Muhammad, however, implored others to embrace the gospel. The Urantia Book goes into considerable detail about the gospel, but of course Christians and Muslims do not consider The Urantia Book to be authoritative, so when I talk to Christians and Muslims it is important that I use as my sources of encouragement the respective texts they consider to be holy.

Since the Qur’an is does not purport itself to be a restatement or recission of the “Book” (Old Testament) or the “Gospel” (Biblical recounting of the life and teachings of Jesus), but rather it presents only summaries of some of the salient points of both, I do not see how the Qur’an could be considered an accurate or replete source of information about the gospel. Until 1955 there was no credible published work that enumerated the points of the gospel, and only the New Testament of the Bible could serve as a source. We must assume therefore that the gospel is recounted in Jesus’ teachings according to the Bible, to the extent allowed by its ancient editors, and attempt to unearth its points by a careful study.

My study has revealed the following major tenets of the gospel:

  1. Acceptance of the reality of the Fatherhood of God.
  2. Belief in the truth of the Brotherhood of Man.
  3. Faith in the effectiveness of the supreme human desire to be like God, to do his will.

The Urantia Book corroborates the above A B Cs of the gospel.

Why were these good news to the Jews of Jesus’ day, and why are they good news to Muslims? Here is what I think, and note that even the gospel Jesus taught to the multitudes was a step down from the advanced spiritual truths he taught his close associates. These points correspond to the A B Cs above.

  1. Neither Jews nor Muslims actually see God as a Heavenly Father. Rather, they see him as an all-powerful deity who will crush them for their sins and misdeeds if they are unrepentant or iniquitous. Yes, they both claim God loves his human subjects, but they do not think of him as a loving Father. Jesus actually taught that a spirit fragment of the Heavenly Father indwells people’s minds and yearns for them to follow his leading. This implies the potential of divinity in human beings who seek to find, know, love, and be like God.
  2. Neither Jews nor Muslims actually believe all other humans are their siblings. Jews believe only fellow Jews are their “neighbors,” and Muslims believe only fellow Muslims are “brothers.” Yes, they both claim it is right to love other people, but they do not really feel a divine mandate to love them as though they are brothers. By contrast with brotherly love, which Jesus preached to the multitudes, Jesus taught his close associates about Fatherly love, and elevation in quality of relationship to fellow humans.
  3. Neither Jews, Christians, or Muslims actually believe humans can be like God. Most Christians assert man inherited a sin nature from Adam and Eve, and can never have fellowship with God unless they accept the notion that his crucifixion constituted a blood sacrifice that atones for sins. Jews are mostly silent on the subject because many, if not most, of them don’t even believe in an afterlife. Muslims actually believe God makes people be evil and makes them reject him, as though they have no choice in the matter. Jesus taught the multitudes that they should strive for personal perfection, and he did not focus on punishment that might be in store for them if they made mistakes. Rather, he focused on the good that would happen to them if they were righteous. He taught his close associates that humans are potentially divine, and that with his approval they can go on to meet the Father face to face.

Note the last sentences in each itemized paragraph above. These are the elevated principles Jesus did not teach the multitudes, but they are nevertheless advanced tenets of the gospel. I am certain you can see why they are such good news. Thinking of God as a father helps people feel they live in a friendly universe where they are expected and encouraged to be good, and they have a blood bond to their creator. Thinking of all people as siblings (or, better yet, as beloved children) inspires people to be tolerant of the faults of their fellows, to love them, and to serve them unselfishly and lovingly. This makes the universe seem to be even more friendly and living in it to be a joy. Thinking the desire to be like God will eventually make people more like him inspires people to show God’s (the Father’s) loving nature to all other people, and to anticipate the power-personality synthesis that results from becoming more like god.

Aside from reiterating the good news of the gospel, I am suggesting in the above comments that Jews, Christians, and Muslims are generally ignorant of the ABC points of that gospel, and so they really don’t get the “good news”. Both Christians and Muslims claim ardently to be believers in and followers of the gospel. However, if you ask any Christian or Muslim to enumerate those points, you will not get cogent, intelligent, direct answers. Many Christians, when asked about the gospel, will present their opinions about the atonement doctrine (believe in Jesus as savior or burn in hell), or say “open your heart to Jesus.” Muslim, however, never even discuss the gospel.

I personally believe this is the major cause of the problems in Christianity and Islam. They give lip service to principles they do not understand and cannot explain, and they are not really imbued with the spiritual verve an embrace of that good news can bring them. Were they able to enumerate the gospel’s points as I have above, they might find a major common point of agreement between the two religions which does not now exist, and thereby they might begin a process of uniting under that gospel. After all, teaching the gospel was the reason for Jesus’ public ministry, and Muhammad pointedly warned his readers that humiliation was in store for those who do not heed the gospel. If you believe the account in the four books of the bible that tell about Jesus’ life, the spirit presence of God appeared as an apparition and on two occasions told those within hearing range “This is my beloved son. Heed him.” Yes, I am aware that Muhammad said Jesus was not God’s son. He was speaking about a genetic, physical son. Since he also claimed that Jesus came from the “Spirit of God,” obviously he believed Jesus was God’s spiritual offspring. According to Jesus’ gospel, of course, we are all God’s children.

Does that make sense to you?

  1. How did Muhammad learn about Jesus?

Muhammad does not explain in the Qur’an how he came to learn about Jesus. If you accept his account, he was simply reciting what Gabriel had told him. However, I recently read that a Syrian Christian taught Muhammad about Jesus. I personally consider that to be quite likely, regardless of what Gabriel said. My question is: who was his teacher here on earth? Here’s why I ask:

In working to help enlighten Christians about the gospel, I encounter enormous resistance. Most of them, particularly the preachers, believe the so-called apostle Paul was the one charged with bringing the gospel to the Gentiles, and of course they believe he did so accurately. I believe differently, however, and the proof is in the New Testament for any honest researcher to discover. Paul explained that he went temporarily blind on the road to Damascus, was told by the heavenly voice of Jesus to go to Damascus and get further instructions, then went to Arabia, then back to Damascus, then to Jerusalem where he met Peter and Jesus’ brother James, then back to Damascus where he spent 3 years before starting his missionary work. He singularly failed to explain where he went in Arabia, why he went, and what he learned.

It seems likely to me that the instructions he received in Damascus were to go to Arabia and Jerusalem to learn the gospel from Jesus’ former apostles. Which of them might have been in Arabia, and where in Arabia would they have been? I believe the two apostles who went to Arabia were Andrew (elected to be the leader of Jesus’ 12 apostles), and Abner (the head apostle for John the Baptist and mentioned in The Urantia Book). Andrew escaped the persecutions in Jerusalem by going to Philadelphia, the last “foreign” town in which Jesus preached before returning to the area of Jerusalem to resurrect Lazarus and be crucified. He had been well received in Philadelphia. What is Philadelphia? It is present day Amman, Jordan, and it was outside the jurisdiction of the Temple leaders and secular leaders of the Jews, so Andrew would have been safe there.

The Urantia Book explains that Andrew and Abner founded a church in Philadelphia that was loyal to the teachings of Jesus, and it survived, sending missionaries throughout Arabia, until it was overrun by Muslim armies early in the 7th century. Most likely it was a missionary from Philadelphia who met with and taught Muhammad.

Why is this relevant? Well, it explains a number of inconsistencies in the biblical record. Since Paul said nothing about what he learned in Philadelphia, we must assume he disagreed with what he was taught. John Mark, the lad who had been closely associated with Jesus and his apostles for 4 years, abandond Paul in Paul’s first missionary journey, probably because he disagreed with Paul’s teachings. And Paul did in fact teach a very strange set of cult beliefs about the relevance of Jesus’ death. He was the author of the atonement doctrine that I find so alien and pagan in nature. Jesus never taught the atonement doctrine, and Abner, Andrew, and John Mark all knew it. Therefore, Paul refused to reveal anything about the gospel teachings he learned in Philadelphia.

Even the book of Revelation (John Zebedee’s vision) reveals in the 3rd chapter that Jesus was fully pleased with only one of the seven churches mentioned - the church in Philadelphia, founded by Andrew. He found some fault with the others, all of which had been established by Paul.

Now, since the rank and file Christians during the days of Muhammad’s early life were of a more Greek Orthodox persuasion, overly honoring Mary as the “mother of God,” pushing a convoluted concept of the Trinity, claiming Jesus was the second person of that Trinity, and giving the gospel short shrift, and since the missionaries from Philadelphia, being loyal to the gospel, disagreed with them, therefore, naturally, the missionary who taught Muhammad told him of the disagreement and complained about the faults in their doctrines. Interestingly, in the Qur’an Muhammad denounced Christians for precisely those shortcomings, and in his denunciation he made it apparent that some Christians acutally believed correctly. Who would those correct Christians be? The ones in Philadelphia, of course. It is a shame that he sent his Muslim warriors into the last bastion of the gospel on earth and destroyed the church from which missionaries of that gospel had been sent to teach him.

I want to corroborate my theories about this. Therefore, I would like to know what other information is available regarding Muhammad’s Christian teacher(s), where I can find it, and what it says. Do you know of any scholarly works that deal with this subject?

I believe Muhammad was correct in denouncing parts of the written record of Jesus’ life and the incorrect following of Paul rather than Jesus by most Christians. Some of the four gospel records in the bible were edited to make them seem more consistent with Paul’s fraudulent concept of the plan of salvation and his false gospel. This is evident from the fact that fundamentalist Christians pick two or three references to blood and ransom as the sole proofs of the atonment doctrine in Jesus’ comments. Even those, however, they misconstrue to make them fit what they want to believe.

  1. Comparing Jesus with Muhammad

Although Muslims say they honor Jesus, I do not understand what they mean by this. I also do not understand why Muslims do not elevate Jesus way above Muhammad in honor. The reason is the accumulation of testimony in the Qur’an about both Muhammad and Jesus, not to mention the biblical record of Jesus’ life and teachings, and other historical writings about Muhammad.

To begin with, there is no human-recorded eye-witness history of Jesus life and teachings outside the first five books of the Bible’s New Testament.

However, there is a considerable record of historical commentary about Muhammad’s life and teachings. These indicate Muhammad had a villainous side to him, albeit perhaps justifiable by the circumstances. He did send his warriors out to raid, loot, and murder settlements of people who were, by and large, innocent. And there is no question that Islam has been spread for the past 14 centuries at the point of a sword or barrel of a gun by Muslim warriors following Muhammad’s example. These facts are indisputable, and they early raids of looting and murder are corroborated by Muhammad’s comments in the Qur’an. In fact, fatwahs and testimony from numerous Muslim clerics about the Qur’an’s support of of holy jihad (actually, acts of war and terrorism) against infidels (non-Muslims) are the basis for the use of oppression, robbery, torture, murder, terrorism, and war against non-Muslims in the world today. This would not look so bad were it not for the fact that Muhammad set the example for this behavoir himself, and in numerous places in the Qur’an, he encourages it.

Ignoring the biblical record of Jesus’ life, and focusing only on Muhammad’s comments in the Qur’an, we see that Muhammad claimed Jesus was a magnificent, honorable, noble, peace-loving, man. Muhammad claimed Jesus was born from the spirit of God, physically born from a virgin, that he himself was a creator, healer, and miracle worker, that he was a prophet, that he brought the gospel to people, that he was closely associated with God, that he ascended to heaven after being resurrected from the dead, and that he will be the judge on judgment day.

The only such characteristic Muhammad claimed about himself was that he was a messenger who received Allah’s words from Gabriel.

That is quite a comparison! Muhammad was a messenger, but otherwise there was nothing holy about him, and he did not get his messages directly from God.

If you believe the biblical account of Jesus, it exalts Jesus only slightly more than does the Qur’an. It indicates Jesus was a spiritual son of God, that he actually communicated directly with God, that he promoted and practice only peace among people and unselfish loving service to others, and that he has “all power in heaven and earth,” whatever that means.

Thus, both Muhammad and the bible grandly elevated Jesus in divine and human status above Muhammad, and this is clear from Islam’s holiest of books, a book you have said is to Muslims what Christ is to Christianity. And yet, Muslims, in their personal beliefs and practices, ignore what Jesus taught and how he lived his life, and focus exclusively on Muhammad, what he taught, and how he lived his life. This seems to me to be very strange, particularly in view of the fact that Muhammad was, according to recorded history and the Qur’an, a war-monger and a promoter of terrorism, while Jesus was a committed man of peace and good will to all. How can Muslims do this in good conscience, given the magnificent claims Muhammad made about Jesus and his gospel in the Qur’an?

Summary and Conclusions

I have presented questions with background considerations that provoke those questions because they demand hard-core answers that are truthful, not an effort to skirt the truth. I hope you can shed some light on the answers, for I know there is much good in Islam.

I think Dar al Islam and Dar al Christianity would both be better of if the adherents of these religions do what both of their head prophets told them to: heed the gospel, live the gospel, and spread the gospel to everyone in the world.

The only way Islam will ever be reformed from the somewhat evil political force that seeks to make women into virtual chattel, inflict mortal punishment on any people who resist embracing it, and uses madrasses to inculcate children with the notion that it is noble to murder infidels in the name of God, is for Muslim educators, community leaders, and clerics to start focusing on living and teaching the gospel.

The only way Christianity will ever escape from the dark ages of fraudulent pagan ideology like the atonement doctrine is for its leaders, educators, and clerics to start focusing on living and teaching the gospel.

Both groups give lip service to it, and many in the groups try to live righteously, but how can they teach principles they don’t know? Unless the three basic points of the gospel are explained to them, how will they ever discover them with clarity in their convoluted holy books? And WHO will do the explaining, if not people like you? Have you already explained it in any of your 50+ books? If not, why not?

My final question to you is this: did you know the gospel as I have explained it above before reading my explanation? If so, where and how did you discover it? Please be specific. I’d love a pleasant surprise in your answers.

In closing, I want you to know that I have not intended to defame Muhammad, the Qur’an, Islam, or Muslims in the comments I have made, and I am willing to be corrected in any errors I have made. I have not knowingly misstated the truth in anything I have said, nor have I pulled any punches to avoid offending you. I have tried to present my considerations and reasonings frankly, and I can support all of my assertions about information in the Qur’an or Bible with relevant, straight-forward scripture. Since I am not writing a paper for any of your classes, I do not think such support is necessary, particularly since you are a well-read scholar on the subject.

Bob Hurt


Er. Rajan C Mathew FIE said...

I earnestly wish the learned Christians and the scholarly Muslims could discard their pride for some time to read and think about it.

Bob Hurt said...

I find it somewhat astounding that only ONE person has commented on this page since I created it nearly 7 years ago. I appreciate Rajan Matthew's echoing of my sentiments.

I write now also to clarify a point by quoting a passage from The Urantia Book, Paper 140 "The Ordination of the Twelve", at the bottom of page 1585:

John asked Jesus, "Master, what is the kingdom of heaven?" And Jesus answered: "The kingdom of heaven consists in these three essentials: first, recognition of the fact of the sovereignty of God; second, belief in the truth of sonship with God; and third, faith in the effectiveness of the supreme human desire to do the will of God--to be like God. And this is the good news of the gospel: that by faith every mortal may have all these essentials of salvation."

And elsewhere in that same paper:

"Jesus did not attack the teachings of the Hebrew prophets or the Greek moralists. The Master recognized the many good things which these great teachers stood for, but he had come down to earth to teach something additional, "the voluntary conformity of man's will to God's will." Jesus did not want simply to produce a religious man, a mortal wholly occupied with religious feelings and actuated only by spiritual impulses. Could you have had but one look at him, you would have known that Jesus was a real man of great experience in the things of this world. The teachings of Jesus in this respect have been grossly perverted and much misrepresented all down through the centuries of the Christian era; you have also held perverted ideas about the Master's meekness and humility. What he aimed at in his life appears to have been a superb self-respect. He only advised man to humble himself that he might become truly exalted; what he really aimed at was true humility toward God. He placed great value upon sincerity--a pure heart. Fidelity was a cardinal virtue in his estimate of character, while courage was the very heart of his teachings. "Fear not" was his watchword, and patient endurance his ideal of strength of character. The teachings of Jesus constitute a religion of valor, courage, and heroism. And this is just why he chose as his personal representatives twelve commonplace men, the majority of whom were rugged, virile, and manly fishermen."