"Superstitious Praise" and "Foolish
Interpretation" have injured Islam as much as Direct Opposition.
by Greg Kagira-Watson (2003)
There are two types of conflict or
misunderstanding that get perpetrated by misinterpretation -- one is
intentionally in opposition to the text and that other thought to be in
support of it, yet inadvertently not. Some Muslim "doctrines" (from
Muslim clergy) seem to have unintentionally created as severe a
stumbling block for Christians attempting to investigate the truth of
the Qur'an as have the intentional forces of opposition from Christian
clergy. Moreover, many stories about Muhammad, which some Muslims have
foolishly thought to be his praise, were embellishments and
fabrications, without textual basis or verification by any Hadith
(authenticated "sayings" attributed to Muhammad). They are not taken as
authentic by any serious student of Islam, and are discounted as mere
superstition. Thus, some of the followers have injured their own Cause.
Just as damaging, the Christian critic who discounts the Revelation of
the Qur’an as mere "meditation induced recitations, of the kind that
can be heard when a charismatic preacher speaks from the heart," or
something referred to as "channeling" simply is ignoring the history of
Islam (and its influence on the progress of civilization) and every
Literal interpretation of the Qur'an, even by Mulims themselves, attempts to suggest that Jesus did not die on the cross (that someone else was substituted for Him), while the Qur'an-- in its symbolic meaning -- may simply be saying that the Holy Spirit which animated Jesus cannot be killed. Similarly, critics of Islam attempt to say that the Qur’an denies the divine origin of the Revelation of Christ because it negates the Trinity. However, Christians themselves are still divided on the meaning of the Trinity, and the term is not even in the Bible. The Qur’an and Muhammad affirm that God exists, that Jesus lived and that "the Christ" and the Holy Spirit exist. That is "the Father," the "son" and the "Holy Spirit." What’s left? Moreover, the Qur’an affirms the Virgin Birth of Jesus, so what is the problem if an interpretation of the "Sonship" of Jesus means something greater – something spiritual? The purpose of this verse could simply be to caution against anthropomorphizing God. Understanding this is a matter of interpretation – by which God tests the hearts of the sincere.
If you come to the dialogue believing that both the Qur'an and the Bible come from One and the Same God, then you must look for the interpretation that reconciles views or interpretations -- not those with inevitable conflict. This is the same exercise for the believer within his OWN holy book. For example the Christian must seek to reconcile the divergent statements of Christ ("He who hath seen Me hath seen the Father," and "No one hath seen God at any time"), and certainly those that would seem contradictory. Consider, for example, that John the Baptist said he was not Elias (John 1:19-21) whereas Jesus on the day of the transfiguration on Mount Tabor Christ said plainly that John, the son of Zacharias, was the promised Elias. Likewise, consider in direct contrast to John 14:9 ("He who hath seen Me hath seen the Father") and John 12:45 that you also have verses like these: “No man hath seen God at any time.” (1 John 4:12) and "And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape." (John 5:37. And please see John 5:30-36.) Also, you may wish to review Luke 18:19 and Mark 10:18.
These seemingly contradictory statements can easily be reconciled but
not unless you seek for the truth that lives higher than the
superficial level of the language. You first have to know that the
higher truth MUST exist and then seek to discover it. This is the
effort of reconciliation that must be done now, to help bring these two
authentic religions from the one same God together. If they are
both indeed from God, then we must know that these Divine teachings
exist in essential harmony. That they seem to differ must be
attributed to our own limited understanding -- which we must seek to
improve if we want peace and harmony on earth. This is a very
deep subject (perplexing scholars for years) and we shall not settle
every controversy in just a few moments.
If you come to the dialogue believing that both the Qur'an and the Bible come from One and the Same God, then you must look for the interpretation that reconciles views or interpretations -- not those with inevitable conflict. This is the same exercise for the believer within his OWN holy book. For example the Christian must seek to reconcile the divergent statements of Christ, and certainly those that would seem contradictory. Likewise, other Biblical statements with those of Jesus. Consider, for example, that John the Baptist said he was not Elias (John 1:19-21) whereas Jesus on the day of the transfiguration on Mount Tabor Christ said plainly that John, the son of Zacharias, was the promised Elias. These seemingly contradictory statements can easily be reconciled but not unless you believe and seek for the truth that lives higher than the superficial level of the language. You first have to know that the higher truth must exist and then seek it.
Let us consider the topic under consideration: First of all the Koran (more currently correct to use the spelling Qur'an) is difficult to understand, and like the Bible should not be simply interpreted in a literal manner. For example, the dove that descended on Jesus Christ during His baptism by John (the Baptist) in the Bible was not a physical dove but symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Much of the Bible meanings are hidden behind a veil of metaphors, in order to test the sincere seeker from those whose only aim is to dispute idly. This is the separation between "sheep and goats" via the sword of His word. The sword Christ carried was the sword of His tongue, with which He divided the good from the evil, the true from the false, the faithful from the unfaithful, and the light from the darkness. His Word was indeed a sharp sword! (Mathew 10:34-35 and Matthew 25:33)
It is indeed ironic, and I cannot fully understand
why God should have chosen to create scriptures in this genre, that the
"believers" themselves (both Muslims and Christians) have often
understood various verses in a literal and superficial manner. However,
it does seem obvious that the symbolism within the language often hides
the higher truth that simply cannot be expressed directly.
As a close friend of mine explained, some writings have both literal and symbolic meanings -- through "equivocal" language. He states: By equivocal I mean that it was intended to be interpreted literally to persuade person's of that outlook, while also written so as to be interpreted symbolically, to instruct and illumine minds of that capacity. That way, out of love for every soul, "whether high or low" they "may obtain, according to his measure and capacity" their "share and portion thereof" and "That all sorts of men may know where to quench their thirst."
At the same time it also seems to be true that some texts are meant to be understood more through symbolism -- and not their literal meaning, which often does not make sense at all. The greater truths are often hidden behind of the veil of metaphors, parables and epiphany stories, etc. Perhaps believers are not even "true" believers if they don't gain the higher spiritual insight in this case, but of course we humans are in no position to judge. (God help us all!) For this perspective I am relying on the verse of Christ: "And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand." (Bible, Luke 8:10) This type of teaching separated believers from unbelievers. Different levels of interpretation -- and insistence that one is better than another -- is what has led to the 23,000 sects of Christianity (World Christian Encyclopedia, D. Barrrett).Some Muslim doctrines seem to have unintentionally created as severe a stumbling block for Christians attempting to investigate the truth of the Qur'an as have the intentional forces of opposition. Moreover, many stories about Muhammad, which some Muslims have foolishly thought to be his praise, were embellishments and fabrications, without textual basis or verification by any Hadith. They are not taken as authentic by any serious student of Islam, and are discounted as mere superstition. Thus, some of the followers have injured their own Cause. Just as damaging, the Christian critic who discounts the Revelation of the Qur’an as mere "meditation induced recitations, of the kind that can be heard when a charismatic preacher speaks from the heart," or something referred to as "channeling" simply is ignoring the history of Islam and every great religion. First of all, in this case, Muhammad was uneducated and illiterate and would not have been able to generate all these verses from himself. Moreover, he was not a charismatic preacher. In fact, he was opposed by most of the people around him at the time. Secondly, if you read the book such an analysis just doesn’t make sense. It is too eloquent and elevated (high-minded). Third, Muslim apologists argue, the Qur’an contains ideas (scientific and otherwise) that have only been discovered in modern times. Fourth, Muhommad’s camel was convinced otherwise.
I am trying to be a little humorous; but, indeed, in the authenticated Hadiths the camel is said to have been brought to his knees by the power of the revelation, if Muhammad was riding at the time. There are many other ways to discuss this, but perhaps Muhammad’s own challenge will be sufficient, that if the Qur’an be only that of human origin then anyone else should produce its like. Muslims argue that the fact that Islam has had such a tremendous impact on civilization and history should not be attributed to an "unlearned and ignorant camel driver," (as detractors have called Him) but rather to the influence of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, Moses gives a criteria for a true Prophet (Deut. 18:18) and states that anyone attempting to make this claim will not be able to accomplish his mission except by the permission of God. God will cut him off.
Some Christian opponents of Islam argue that the Qur’an denies the crucifixion and the Trinity. First let me recount some of the Qur'anic verses from which these interpretations are undoubtedly taken. First, the crucifixion:
"That they said (in boast), 'We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of God";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not: Nay, God raised him up unto Himself; and God is Exalted in Power, Wise.' " (The Qur'an --Yusuf Ali translation, Qur’an: Sura 4)
"And for their saying, 'Verily we have slain the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, an Apostle of God." Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness. And they who differed about him were in doubt concerning him: No sure knowledge had they about him, but followed only an opinion, and they did not really slay him, but God took him up to Himself. And God is Mighty, Wise!' " (The Qur'an -- Rodwell translation, Sura 4)
Notice the difference in the two translations – Yusuf
Ali’s being regarded the more accurate among Arabic scholars.
Nonetheless, in all translations of this passage the "resurrection" is
confirmed ("God raised him up unto Himself"), as it is elsewhere in the
Qur’an. But this requires a spiritual interpretation. One possible
interpretation of the likeness (Rodwell) could be this: The
"likeness" of Christ was His own physical nature, a veil for those who
see and still do not believe. Christ came eating and sleeping and thus
appeared like any man, and thus He passed among the Jews unloved and
unrecognized. His body was killed, but His spirit was not. The reality
of Christ is the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the human spirit itself is
immortal, which was Christ's central message. These two spirits
cannot be killed. This truth would be equivalent to Christ saying, "You
see me killed (it appears to you that I am killed), but I am not
killed." …just as he said "the Son of Man is in heaven" while he was
standing there on earth talking to his followers at the time.
Essentially, to me, the verse means you cannot kill the reality of the
Christ. Thus, it is correct to say they did not kill Him, just as
it is also correct to say that He was killed. This requires an
understanding of the "twofold language" of the Prophets-- one literal
and the other symbolic.
Many Muslims who interpret the verse "literally" (superficially) think it to mean that someone else was substituted for Jesus. This obviously does not help the interfaith dialogue since it is equivalent to saying that Jesus was never crucified -- which is a denial of the Christian holy book -- the New Testament Bible. The Qur'anic verse should be seen as a compliment (if stating that the "Christ" cannot be killed) and not a denial or detraction, which would otherwise pervert the obvious meaning of the Christian text. (Why should insistence on the latter be necessary?) This type of contradiction between Muslim and Christian interpretation is clearly an example where ignoring the symbolism creates an unnecessary religious controversy. If God is ultimately the author of both the Bible and the Qur’an then we must seek some understanding of how these divergent verses are in agreement. We have to go back and look at the original texts themselves.
The Bible itself in the following passage sheds some additional light upon the concept of resurrection, indicating that the body is not what it appears to be -- or any type of body we are familiar with as physical:
"… some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be. . . So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." (Paul the Apostle in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:36-44)
These type of verses (from Bible and Qur’an) are among those of which Christ spoke thusly:
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. . . (Matthew 13:13-16)
Moreover, one must not take just one verse from the text of the Bible or Qur’an and examine it in isolation. There is no way that critics of Islam could say that the Qur’an denies the divine origin of the Revelation of Christ. This is what the critics of Islam are attempting to say by saying that Islam negates the Trinity. The two statements are not equivalent. In other words, the presentation of a different interpretation of the same truth is not equivalent to the denial of that truth. (If this were so, then all those Christian sects that do not believe in the "Trinity" doctrine would also be accused of not believing in the divine authority of Christ.) To illustrate, again, how clearly the Qur’an advances the Revelation of Christ, here is another verse that confirms the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:
"When God said, 'O Jesus! I will make Thee die and take Thee up again to Me and will clear thee of those who misbelieve, and will make those who follow thee above those who misbelieve, at the day of judgment, then to me is your return. I will decide between you concerning that wherein ye disagree. And as for those who misbelieve, I will punish them with grievous punishment in this world and the next, and they shall have none to help them.' But as for those who believe and do what is right, He will pay them their reward, for God loves not the unjust." (The Qur'an, translated by E.H. Palmer, Sura 3 - Imran’s Family)
I don’t think it is fair to say that Islam does not uphold mainstream Christianity (simply because of a difference in interpretation), when Christianity itself is so divided (based upon difference of interpretation). You would have to ask, "Uphold Christianity? Which variety of Christianity… based on which interpretation?" The fact that a particular variety of Muslim interpretation of the Christian text does not agree with a particular variety of Christian interpretation does not make it "anti-Christian" – only that it is like many other sects of Christianity which offer different interpretations from those of other sects. Some interpretations of the source text confirm (rather than contradict) the other religion, as we have already illustrated.
As to the denial of the Trinity let me start with this quote concerning the intensity of the "Trinity debate" among the Christians:
"It is recorded that at the time of the reinstatement of the Arian Bishop Macedonius, in Constantinople, three thousand people lost their lives in the fighting. Probably more Christians were slaughtered by Christians in these two years, than by all the persecutions of Christians by pagans in the history of Rome." (E. Kirk, A Short History of the Middle East)
Christians themselves are still divided on the meaning of the Trinity. The word is not even mentioned in the Bible, but invented later to describe the mysterious relationship of Christ to God. The Qur’an and Muhammad also affirm that God exists, that Jesus lived and that "the Christ" and the Holy Spirit exist. That is "the Father," the "son" and the "Holy Spirit." What’s left? Moreover, the Qur’an affirms the Virgin Birth of Jesus, so what is the problem if an interpretation of the "Sonship" of Jesus means something greater – something spiritual – rather than the mere physical body since a person could infer that God has a body, which is totally non-Biblical (yet some Christians maintain). The body aspect of Jesus’s "sonship" is already confirmed by the affirmation of the Virgin birth, from which the original Christian doctrine of "sonship" evolved. Nonetheless, the following verse is a challenge to this understanding because on the surface it seems to contradict the sonship and divinity of Christ:
"God is only one God! Far be it from His glory that He should have a son!" (Qur'an 4:169).
The purpose of this verse could simply be to caution
against anthropomorphizing God. Again, understanding this is a matter
of interpretation – by which God tests the hearts of the sincere. Some
folks continually search for greater meaning in the scriptures because
they know that God is difficult to understand and they know that man
must continually pray for greater understanding. Others simply limit
themselves to existing interpretations and defend their position as if
to validate themselves and their position. It is as if some folks are
so identified with their belief systems that if the belief were to
change they imagine that their identity would cease to exist.
Although Christ has a unique station above the rest of humanity, the Bible clearly explains that the greater meaning of sonship — for all of us — is to be re-born of the Spirit of God, and this is the meaning of the second birth, which Christ came to teach:
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (Bible, John 1:12)
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." (Bible, 1 John 3:1)
In summary, the Qur'an teaches the virgin birth of Jesus; it has a complete Surih—the 19th—devoted to Mary. It denies (does not hold with) the notion of three Gods (4:169; 5:77). It requires a spiritual interpretation to understand this. All this is explained clearly in the Baha’i writings, and thus the disputations and wrangling between the different religions (and even between the different sects within these respective religions) may cease.I hope that these -- my meditations -- on the crucifixion and the Trinity, as one who is not a scholar of either Muslim or Christian doctrine but merely relying on his understanding of the texts is of some use to the dialogue between Christians and Muslims -- thus helping to reconcile unnecessary differences based on mere interpretations.