Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Christian - Muslim Dialogue part 1

Some time ago one of my former students asked me about a little booklet entitled a "Christian-Muslim Dialogue" by H.M Baagil. It is a Muslim attack on Christianity. I thought I'd post some of my responses over the next few days. Part 1 is below:

Much of Baagil’s book is an imaginary dialogue between a Muslim and a Christian. I say imaginary because the dialog often seems very contrived and the Christian responses appear to be nothing more than the vehicle for Baagil’s propaganda. In places the Christian response is amazingly ignorant of Christianity and yet on page 18 suddenly this Christian knows about the Greek textual history of Matthew 28:18!

It is hard for me to believe that a Christian who was so uninformed about so many other basic matters was suddenly knowledgeable about the scholarship behind Matthew 28:18. I have no doubt that the dialogue is contrived.

On page 5 the Muslim says, “Some Christian Denominations are making tremendous progress now by acknowledging for the first time in history that Muhammad PBUH [Peace be upon him] descended from Ishmael through his second son Kedar.” Baagil then cites references which say that Muslims trace the linage of Muhammad through Kedar.

This argument entirely misses the point. The issue is not how Muslims trace the lineage of Muhammad. The issue is that Muslims deny the clear teaching of Genesis which says that God’s special covenant with Abraham was passed down through Isaac to Jacob (aka Israel) and not through Ishmael. God blessed Ishmael too, of course, but according to Genesis, his special covenant went through Isaac to Israel.

According to Genesis 17:15-21 God promised to bless Abraham’s wife Sarah and give her a son (Abraham already had a son—Ishmael—through his servant Hagar). Abraham responded saying, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you! God said, No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him a great nations. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

Muslims of course, will argue that Christians or Jews corrupted the text. The Dead Sea Scrolls, however, were discovered in about 1948. These were copied about 200 years before the time of Jesus and contained every book in the Old Testament except Esther. Not only that, but the Dead Sea Scrolls were copied by the Essenes, a group of people who thought the Jews controlling the Temple in Jerusalem were corrupt.

Finally! A very ancient group of scrolls come to light which might support the Muslims’ claim that the Old Testament had been corrupted by Jews.Unfortunately for Muslims, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not support any of the places where Muslims claim Jews changed the text of the Old Testament! To be more specific, although the text of Genesis is very fragmentary in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is clear that the story line goes from Abraham, through Isaac, to Jacob (Israel); not through Ishmael.

Muslims could, of course, argue that the copyists of the Dead Sea Scrolls changed the story but there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support this. We’ll return to this point later.

On pages 5-6 the Muslim argues, “The biggest asset brought by Muslim immigrants to the Western hemisphere is not their manpower but the Islam which is now taking root here. Many mosques and Islamic centers are established and many are reverted into Islam…This is also a proof that Islam is not spreading by the sword but simply by propagation by individuals or groups of Muslims.”

Actually, it is proof that Saudi Arabia is pouring enormous amounts of money into America to spread Islam, while refusing to allow Christian missionaries to tell Muslims about Jesus in Saudi Arabia. Why is that? Are the Saudi’s afraid that Islam can’t compete with Christianity on a level playing field? Why won’t they give Muslims freedom to hear and choose for themselves?

Baagil is right, however, that Islam is not currently being spread by the sword in America, but he conveniently ignores the fact that Islam has been one of the most imperialistic forces in the history of mankind!

Even during the times of Muhammad, Islam was spread by violence. According to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad himself personally slaughtered many people, and his followers continued those violent practices for hundreds of years (see Islamic Imperialism by Efraim Karsh; The Sword of the Prophet by Serge Trifkovic, and The Dhimmi by Bat Ye’or). Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch has documented over and over and over again who this same violence continues in countries all over the world to this day.

Muslims will often respond, however, by point out how violent Christianity has been. The difference is:

1) that the total number of people estimated to have been killed by Catholics in the inquisition over the course of three hundred years or so, is miniscule compared to the number of people slaughtered by Muslims in Sudan in the last 20 years, or the number of people slaughtered by Saddam Hussein in only a few years, or the number of Armenians slaughtered by Muslims in just a few weeks! The examples could go on and on and on.

2) Muslims could argue, I suppose, that those who did such slaughtering were not true Muslims, and that is exactly what Christians will say about all the violence committed in the name of Christianity over the years—it was often done by people who were not true Christians. The difference is that those who call themselves Christians cannot find any justification in the New Testament for slaughtering or torturing innocent people merely because those people are from a different religion, or doctrine. Muslims, on the other hand, often find all kinds of justification for their violence in the life of Muhammad and his teachings in the Qur’an.

On page 6 the Muslim says, “Unlike the names Judaism and Christianity, this name Islam has been given by Allah, the Creator Himself, as mentioned in Surah 5:3…Neither the name Judaism nor Christianity is found in the Bible or even in a Bible dictionary.”

A little later the Muslim continues, “The first Muslim on earth is not Muhammad but Adam who submitted totally to Allah.”

If the name “Islam” was given by the Creator and goes back to Adam, then why don’t the words “Muslim” or “Islam” appear in any Hebrew text of the Old Testament? I mean, if Baagil is going to argue that it is significant that the words “Judaism” and “Christian” were not given by God, but that Adam is the first Muslim, you would think that Adam or at least one of the Old Testament prophets whom Muslims revere would have been called “Muslim” in the Bible.

The fact is that whether the Bible uses the words “Judaism” or “Christianity” is entirely irrelevant. Judaism and Christianity are simply words we use to describe groups of people which appear in the Bible. We all know what we are talking about when we use the words Judaism and Christianity.

On page 6 the “Christian” says, “How could Abraham be a Muslim? He is known as a Jew!” When the Muslim asks “Who told you that” the “Christian says, “We are taught that; it must be confirmed in the Bible too.”

Knowledgeable Christians would say that Abraham is the father of the Jews, just like Abraham is the father of the Arabs. Even Baagil’s own chart between pages 5 and 6 shows his acknowledgement of this fact.

On page 7 the Muslim says, “So Moses was not a Jew because he was not descended from Judah but a Levite. Moses was the ‘lawgiver’ (Torah is law) to the children of Israel.” The “Christian” responds, “How can you explain that” [Explain what? This appears to be a made-up question by a made-up “Christian” simply for the purpose of promoting Baagil’s propaganda].

The Muslim answers, “Because we are using the Noble Qur’an as standard. You can explain the Bible and correct Jewish and Christian prejudice with the content of the Qur’an. It is the last revealed Book which has never been corrupted or adulterated.”

First, the idea that Moses was not a “Jew” because he was not descended from Judah is deceptive. The word Jew probably comes from the name Judah, but the fact is that Christians, Jews and even Muslims use the word “Jews” to refer to all the “children of Israel” (Jacob) regardless of which tribe they came from.

Second, the idea that the Qur’an has never been corrupted is just simply not true. Ibn Warraq writes,
“While modern Muslims may be committed to an impossibly conservative position,Muslim scholars of the early years of Islam were far more flexible in their position, realizing that parts of the Koran were lost, perverted, and that there were many thousand variants which made it impossible to talk of the Koran. For example, as-Suyuti (died 1505), one of the most famous and revered of the commentators of the Koran, quotes Ibn Umar al-Khattab as saying: “Let none of you say that he has acquired the entire Koran for how does he know that it is all? Much of the Korah has been lost, thus let him say, ‘I have acquired of it what is available’ (As-Suyuti, Itqan, part 3, page 72). ‘A’isha, the favorite wife of the Prophet, says, also according to a tradition recounted by as-Suyuti, ‘During the time of the Prophet, the chapter of the Parties used to be two hundred verses when read. When Uthman edited the copies of the Koran, only the current (verses) were recorded” (73).
Because there were so many different and disagreeing versions of the Koran, Uthman had an authoritative version of the Koran created (authoritative, because Uthman was the ruler and ordered all other competing versions to be destroyed)! Ibn Warraq comments, however, that
“Despite ‘Uthman’s order to destroy all texts other than his own, it is evident that older codices survived. As Charles Adams says, ‘It must be emphasized that far from there being a single text passed down inviolate from the time of ‘Uthman’s commission, literally thousands of variant readins of particular verses were known in the firest three (Muslim) centuries. These variants affected even he Uthmanic codex, making it difficult to know what its true form may have been” (The origins of the Koran; edited by Ibn Warraq, 12-15).
More on the Christian-Muslim Dialogue tomorrow.