Chapter 12: My Choice
I read the Bible to find convincing evidence to confirm Christian doctrine so that I could teach Muslims that they should become Christians. Instead, I found that the Bible does not independently support a doctrine that claims that Jesus is God, in trinity or otherwise. As well, I did not find support from Jesus or in the Old Testament for the doctrine that Jesus died to take the penalty of our sins onto himself so that we could be forgiven by God. Even the New Testament writers whose words could be construed in that way became less clear with scrutiny.
The Bible didn't say that God requires sacrifice. In fact, it said: "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" in Hosea 6:6, and: "Sacrifice and burnt offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced (or opened), burnt offering and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, 'Here I am, I have come -- it is written about me in the scroll" in Psalm 40:6-7. It seems inconsistent to me now that Christianity should teach that God is eternal and omnipotent, and yet claim that "He" cannot forgive sin without sacrificial bloodshed.
What the Bible taught me was that Jesus was sent by God and born of a virgin by the power of God to be the Messiah described in the Old Testament. He is identified as the "Word of God" in both the Bible and the Quran. I believe that the Spirit which came to him was the Spirit of Wisdom, and that this Spirit is the one which has always been with the Prophets of God. This Spirit is spoken of as being distinct from God and His angels in both the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran.
I believe that Jesus had a special relationship with the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by his miraculous acts (for which he generally denied credit) and I think John, Peter and Paul thought so too, but I do not pretend to understand what that relationship was. I also don’t think that this belief of mine is important, because Jesus himself did not say much about it. The rest of the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran say only that he was supported by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus taught faith in God, repentance and obedience. For his obedient followers, he promised to intercede with God that they might receive the help of the Holy Spirit. I think that this is also the Spirit of Wisdom. It is important to remember that according to the Gospels, God is the One who decides who will receive this gift, not Jesus. Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, and he went willingly to this fate, submitting himself to God.
Instead, God lifted him up to be with Him. When he returns, Jesus will take his righteous followers to be with him in Heaven. Everything that happened to Jesus was with God’s permission.
When I still believed that the Bible taught that Jesus was God Incarnate, I had always had trouble understanding Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.
There, Jesus asked God to spare him from the next day's arrest, trial, torture and condemnation, saying: "Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" in Mark 14:36. If Jesus had really been hinting throughout his time on earth that he was divine, then I sometimes wondered why he made a distinction between his will and God's. My non-Christian friends also questioned whether Jesus’ suffering was really all that significant, since as God he would have known the severity, duration and outcome, and likely would have been able to call upon greater than human resources of strength and perseverance.
When I finally accepted Jesus’ humanity, I saw an eloquent illustration of the Glory, Power and Goodness of God: That Jesus, though only a man, was able with the help of the Spirit to fulfill the Law (sufficiently in God's Justice and Mercy), and was exalted and raised by God to Heaven as promised.
When in the past, I had feared God's Judgment, I was comforted by the assurance that His son had taken my punishment onto himself. Now I instead remember that Jesus taught that we all belong to God, and that included among the infinite perspectives from which God considers each of us is the love that a Father has for his beloved child.
Because I had these beliefs, I was unable to remain a Christian, even though I am convinced that I believe what the Bible was meant to teach. I think the most important thing that I learned is that Faith and doctrine are not the same.
Faith is not the ability to believe, nor is belief proof of Faith. Faith is obedience and submission to God. Faith is trust. This trust is God's gift to each of us.
Every individual reported to have had Faith, in either the Bible or the Quran, regardless of his or her belief, willingly chose to submit to and obey the commands of God. Those reported to have rebelled against God did not rebel by their beliefs. They rebelled by their actions.
I had been warned to avoid the Quran, because it would destroy my Faith. Instead, when I read the Quran, I found myself learning what Faith really was.
As well, I found my confidence in the validity of the actual teachings of the Bible confirmed. It was this Gift of Faith that made me Muslim. When I asked for Wisdom, I was given Faith in God, rather than faith in my own doctrines.
I had always been taught that the two Books -- the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran -- were in opposition. I found that this was not the case. Even regarding Jesus, the Quran supported everything that the Bible actually said. I think that the fact that each of the two books confirms the other is one of the greatest signs of their truth, that despite over a thousand years of political manoeuvring, secular forces have been unable to substantially change the actual words, even though they have been able to change their interpretation.
The Quran makes it very plain that fruitless religious arguments between Jews, Christians and Muslims are to be avoided. Surah 29:46 says: “And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury); but say, ‘We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is One; and it is to him we bow (in Islam)." Vain disputation is forbidden in both the Bible and the Quran. I believe that the Books speak for themselves.
Far from opposing Jesus, Muslims even look forward to the "second coming" when we will join with Jesus in prayer and in opposing Satan. The sayings of Mohammed (PBUH) which are not directly quoted from the Quran are collected in the hadiths.
One of these from Kitab Al-Fitan Wa Ashrat as Sa'ah Chapter MCXCVIII says: "Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: 'The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-Amaq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina to counteract them.
When they will arrange themselves in ranks, the Romans would say: 'Do not stand between us and those Muslims who took prisoners from amongst us. Let us fight with them'; and the Muslims would say: 'Nay, by Allah, we would never get aside from you and from our brethren that you may fight them.'
Then will they fight and a third part of the army would run away, whom Allah will never forgive. A third part of the army, which would be constituted of excellent martyrs in Allah's eye, would be killed, and the third who would never be put to trial would win, and they would be conquerors of Constantinople.
And as they would be busy in distributing the spoils of war amongst themselves after hanging their swords in olive trees, Satan would cry: ‘The Dajjal has taken your place among your family.' They would then come out, but it would be of no avail. And when they would come to Syria, he would come out while they would be still preparing themselves for battle, drawing up the ranks. Certainly the time of prayer shall come, and then Jesus (PBUH) the son of Mary would descend and would lead them in prayer.
When the enemy of Allah would see him, it would disappear just as salt dissolves itself in water, and if Jesus were not to confront them at all, even then it would dissolve completely, but Allah would kill them by his hand, and he would show them their blood on his lance (the lance of Jesus Christ)."
To be a follower of Jesus or Mohammed or Moses or any other of the many Prophets of the One God, we must live in service to the Will of God. Moses said: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”
A Pharisee named Hillel, about a hundred years before Christ, was asked by a centurion to summarize the Laws of Judaism while standing on one foot.
Perched on one leg, he said: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One. Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you... The rest is only commentary.” Later, Jesus said: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One: you shall love the Lord your God with all your Heart, and with all your Soul and with all your Mind, and with all your might, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
The Holy Quran, in Surah 2:177, teaches: “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards east or west; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; To spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer; and practice regular charity, to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient in pain and adversity and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.”
The message has always been the same. All of God's Prophets have taught faith, submission, obedience, kindness, charity, equality and fair dealing.
Therefore I pray, fast and make my offerings as a Muslim now because I am sure that following Islam is a path that pleases God and because I can no longer believe this of Christianity. Although I was forced by my studies to give up many of the beliefs that I once had, what I am left with is a certainty that whatever God wants will be done in my life and my life to come. I have some difficulty conceiving why I would ever have wanted anything else.
I think the one thing that first attracted me to Islam was its simplicity. The word "Islam" means "submission". There are to me three principles from which the rest of Islam is derived. The first and most important is that there is only One God, who named Himself "I am, that I am" to Moses, who is called "Allah", "The Lord" in Arabic and simply "God" in English.
God is the only uncreated "One" and requires nothing to continue unchanged and perfect for all eternity. Surah 2:255 says: "Allah! There is no god but He – the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him, nor sleep.
His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there who can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knows what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they encompass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them, for He is The Most High, the Supreme (in glory)."
The second principle is that God has chosen to reveal his messages to us through exalted Prophets, some known to us and some not, but all of whom have brought the same core message, varying only because the recipients were different peoples. Surah 10:47 says: "To every people (was sent) a Messenger: when their Messenger comes (before them), the matter will be judged between them with justice and they will not be wronged" and Surah 23:51-52 says "O ye messengers!
Enjoy (all) things good and pure, and work righteousness, for I am well-acquainted with (all) that ye do. And verily this Brotherhood of yours is a single Brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher; therefore Fear Me (and no other)." Surah 4:150-152 is a strong warning that we should avoid the temptation of Christians, and some Muslims, to exalt any one messenger over the rest: "Those who deny Allah and His Messengers, and (those who) wish to separate Allah from His Messengers, saying: "We believe in some but reject others", and (those who) wish to take a course midway – they are in truth (equally) unbelievers; and We have prepared for unbelievers a humiliating punishment. To those who believe in Allah and His Messengers and make no distinction between any of His messengers, We shall soon give their (due) rewards; for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Another principle is that God does not elevate any of the rest of us, Muslim or otherwise, above another and judges us all by the same standard; our submission to "Him". "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other).
Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well -acquainted (with all things)." Surah 49:13.
I call myself a Muslim, knowing that to be a Muslim means being one of God's willing servants and one of a community of believers who follow the teachings of Islam. To me, Surah 2:62: “Those who believe (in the Quran), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians – any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” is a reminder that just calling myself a Muslim is not enough. In the end, I will be judged on the basis of my faith and actions and mercifully punished or rewarded by God, who is Most Just and who always knows everything.
The declaration, spoken in Arabic, that there is no God but Allah and that Mohammed (PBUH) is his Messenger, joins all Muslims in one Faith. The five daily prayers keep us from evil and help us remain in obedience to God.
Although each prayer takes less than five minutes, it is difficult to contemplate doing something one knows to be wrong if one knows he or she will be praying to God, who knows everything, in the next couple of hours! Fasting during the month of Ramadan teaches self-control. Charity, given in love and respect by those who have more than they need, to those who have less, is a good act that benefits the giver through purification and the recipient by providing for their sustenance.
And lastly, the pilgrimage to Mecca, enjoined upon those who can make the journey, is an act of service and praise to God that benefits those who can make it, both in this life as an opportunity to participate in Worship within the larger Muslim community, and in the next life, since praise and service are good acts, pleasing to God.
Unfortunately, religion and politics have become linked to the extent that many people think of Muslims only in political terms. Because of this, some people choose to criticize Islam because of the laws and governance of some Muslim nations. It should not be surprising that the practices which receive their greatest attention and condemnation are not necessarily supported by the Holy Quran. The obsession that some Muslims have with their own fine points of doctrine, resulting in schisms and even bloodshed within Islam, is condemned.
Surah 6:159 says: “As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least. Their affair is with Allah; He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.”
Likewise, the temptation to legislate religion is something that I think should be avoided. People must choose freely whether or not to revert to Islam. According to Surah 2:256: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error; whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks.” There are some issues upon which not all Muslims agree.
When we are deciding how to act, dress, eat and live, we are expected to do our utmost to obey God, the Prophets and the Word. Sometimes this calls for interpretation. Issues of importance are absolutely clear in the Quran. Laws forcing the unwilling to participate in religious observances that may or may not be founded in God’s Word should be avoided. On the other hand, if people choose amongst themselves to live by certain rules and practices that do not harm themselves or others, it really is not appropriate for the rest of the world to stand in judgment over them.
Many non-Muslims look at Islam today and ask how it is possible to profess to be a member of a religious group in whose name so much evil is apparently done in the world. As I read the Quran and talk with fellow Muslims, it is obvious that there is no place for terrorism in Islam. Jihad cannot be declared against non-combatants. People who commit murder and rape, or those who use their own interpretations of Islam to oppress and subjugate others, cannot be practicing Islam, whatever they may claim, because these are simply not the actions of a servant of God.
This does not mean that I automatically disown any of my brothers or sisters who stand accused of heinous acts. Before you can judge another person by their actions, you must have a lot more information than second-hand accounts of what they did.
One man’s or government’s “terrorist” may well be a man or woman fighting for his or her family, life, and dignity against insuperable odds with whatever means they find at hand. It is very easy for our own interpretation of events to be manipulated by those who control the information that we receive. News reports are always controlled by reporters, their sources, their editors and the context in which they live and work.
Finally, if it is correct and proper to judge a religion by its followers, we then must condemn every religion in the history of humanity. Every follower rebels against what they are taught and falls short of perfection, whatever their faith.
One need only look at the remote and recent history of the Christian Church to find evidence of rebellion in the worshippers of Jesus. The recent Christian Serbian genocidal campaign against Bosnian Muslims stands as an excellent example. When I was a Christian, I did not feel that I had to question my own beliefs simply because some serial rapist declared himself to have been a born-again Baptist. If you judge a religion, you should judge it by its sources, not by those who claim to follow it.
We are all striving to please God. We need to make room for each other. I believe we can help achieve this by honest dialogue. A Muslim friend was recently confronted by a well-meaning Christian on the campus of our university who said: “I’m just so worried about you because I don’t want you to go to hell!” She obviously didn’t realize that the woman she so addressed returned her concern!
We have one God but many different doctrines. I have now come to question whether by themselves, our beliefs and doctrines matter as much as we all seem to think that they do. If Faith is really a gift from God, then we are all joined in that Faith by God. Although we are separated from each other by our doctrines, I wonder if perhaps it is our preoccupation with providing explanations for God's goodness, or at least with believing that only we have the "correct" ones, that's wrong.