A Thumbnail Sketch of Islam for Christians - page 3


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From the Winter 2014 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

A Thumbnail Sketch of Islam for Christians

by Gerald R. McDermott, Ph.D.
Jordan Trexler Professor of Religion, Roanoke College

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The Message of the Qur’an

  The Qur’an tells its readers and listeners (it was meant to be recited out loud) that human beings are created by God to serve God and avoid idolatry, which involves giving first allegiance to anything other than God—money, family, race, success, or earthly life itself. There are two final destinations—hell (which punishes with boiling water, pus, chains, searing wind, and food that chokes), for those who reject the message of the Prophet, and Paradise, which offers wide-eyed damsels, wine, and luscious fruits to those who prove to be faithful Muslims. Modernist Muslims say the same thing about these passages that many Christians say about biblical descriptions of heaven and hell—that they are simply metaphorical ways of saying that the presence of God is delightful and absence from God will be horrible.
  The Qur’an teaches that Islam is the simplest and clearest of religions and stands as the essential core of every other religion; it is the revelation that was given originally to Abraham but was later distorted by the Jewish and Christian traditions. This is why God needed to give it once more to Muhammad.

Jesus in Islam

  American Christians are generally surprised when they learn of the extraordinary respect that Muslims hold for Jesus. He was the greatest of all the prophets, they say, until Muhammad. The Qur’an even recognizes Jesus as “Messiah,” “word from God,” “a Spirit from God,” and the son of Mary who was “strengthened with the Holy Spirit.” It teaches the Virgin Birth (Mary is said by Muslims to have been the purest woman in all creation) and accepts the historicity of all the gospel miracles but one—Jesus’ resurrection.

How Jews and Christians Went Wrong (according to Muslims)

  Muslims regard the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God, but they quickly add that Jews and Christians have corrupted the texts at critical points. Jews perverted the original revelation, Muslims claim, by an act of communal narcissism. They took a message intended for every nation and turned it into an exclusive proclamation of salvation for themselves alone—that they alone are the Chosen People. Although the Qur’an is silent on the issue, some Muslims believe that Jews substituted Isaac’s name for Ishmael’s in the book of Genesis and thus concealed for centuries the Arabian connection in the history of salvation.
  Christians, Muslims believe, made the mistake of turning Jesus into a god and therefore reverting to the polytheism that Allah forbids. Most Muslims deny that Jesus was crucified, because the Qur’an states that the Jews did not kill Jesus and that God “raised [Jesus] to himself” in a manner reminiscent of Elijah. More important, Muslims deny that Jesus was the Son of God, imagining that that would mean that God had engaged in sex, which is unimaginable. Islam also denies that Jesus was a savior because of its conviction that each of us must be responsible for our own sins. To imagine that someone else can save us from our sins seems to Muslims to be spiritually irresponsible. Most of them are convinced that no one can receive such spiritual benefits from another. I say “most,” because many mystical Muslims (Sufis) believe they need the help of the Prophet and his family for salvation.    
  Muslim tradition teaches that eventually both Judaism and Christianity will wither away, as most of the world accepts Islam’s version of monotheism. Almost all Muslims believe that Jesus will indeed return, as Christians believe, but when Jesus comes Jesus will turn the world back to the original teaching of Abraham—Islam.

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