Letters To My Muslim Friend
A Christian Speaks to His Muslim Friend
You are a Muslim, and I am a Christian. I write to you with respect and affection. I have long admired and learned from your dedication to God and your daily fidelity to prayer, and to fasting in the season of Ramadan. I recognise that there is much that we have in common. We are members of one human family, and we are children of God. In this, you are my brother, my sister.
But the bond between us is even stronger, for we both hold that God is One and Indivisible; that God is Eternal, always was, is and will be; that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, both visible and invisible; that God alone possesses all power; and that no other entity possesses any power that is independent of Him. He alone must we worship and obey. Because of our belief, you and I want to do this, to devote our lives to God, and to do and submit wholeheartedly to His Holy Will.
In so far as Islam is such submission [Qur-an 3.19], I too am Muslim, and despite my many failings, I endeavour, with faith-filled Christians, to submit my whole being and my entire life to the One True God, just as you do and to bless His Holy Name (Psalm 103:1), [Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Mark 12:29 and Luke 10:27, Qur-an 3:18-19].
There is so much else that we have in common. We believe in Divine Revelation. Christians are rooted in the Old and the New Testaments, and in the Psalms; and Muslims in their equivalent (the Holy Taurat, the Holy Injeel, and the Holy Zabour). We believe in angels, in Abraham and Moses and the prophets, in John the Baptist, in Jesus Christ the Messiah, and in Mary (Marium) his mother. We believe in the Judgment that follows death, in life after death, and in the final Resurrection. There are many other beliefs and practices that we cherish and emphasise, such as the crucial importance of prayer, of justice and works of mercy, almsgiving and charity.
Yet, there is much that has separated us and keeps us apart. And this is saddening. So, while some of us who are Christian and some of us who are Muslim have begun to talk to one another, respect one another more sincerely and even to pray together (eg. http://www.arm.catholic.edu.au/parish/prayingpeace.htm) and discover common cause in social and political matters, as far as our religious faiths are concerned, we fear to touch upon what keeps us apart. Would not the One God want us, who are his children, to grow closer together, learn from one another, and someday to be united in His Name? What do you think?
Why this separation?
May we humbly begin to touch upon this difficult and delicate subject. I pray that I will not hurt or offend you in this matter.
I know that we have been apart as religions over the centuries on account of geographical, cultural and political reasons. But today, we are far closer to one another than ever before. We realise that in this 21st century we face common dangers, both from within our own ranks by those who would skew our fundamental beliefs and use them to further sectarian, political and geopolitical ends, and from the secular world around us. On the other hand, thanks to new means of communication, we can talk to one another more readily and honestly, and to get to know one another better. Despite this, we tend to pass by one another, perhaps with courtesies, but seldom daring to get any closer, to that which really counts.
What most basically keeps us apart appears to hinge on our understanding of God (Allah) and of Jesus Christ (Isa); and what we consider to be God’s Will for us. These in turn relate to what is given in our scriptures and yours.
The Injeel, the Holy Taurat and the Holy Zabour are Books which Muslims regard as having been revealed through the Prophets, and are vouched for by the Holy Qur-an.
In the Holy Qur-an you read, “And We sent after them in their footsteps Isa (Jesus), son of Marium (Mary), verifying what was before him of the Taurat and We gave him the Injeel in which was guidance and light, and verifying what was before it of Taurat and a guidance and an admonition for those who guard (against evil)” [Qur-an 5.46].
Similarly, you read “Say: We believe in Allah and (in) that which had been revealed to us, and … that which was given to Musa (Moses) and Isa, and (in) that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit [Qur-an 2:136].
Thus, the Holy Qur-an vouches for the truth and the importance of the Holy Taurat, revealed through Musa (Moses) and the Holy Injeel revealed through Isa.
It also confirms the importance of what Isa (Jesus of Nazareth) did and taught. For example, “..We gave Isa, the son of Marium, clear arguments and strengthened him….”[Qur-an 2:87].
Jesus (Isa) is extolled above other prophets and men, and is referred to as the bearer of the gospel, the good news of God, the Word from Allah [Qur-an 3:39], as one to whom authority was given by God, as one through whom the word of God was given to men [eg. Qur-an 3:45-54, 5:110, 6:85].
So, pardon me for being puzzled when so little is said in the Holy Qur-an about Jesus (Isa) himself, about the basic teachings of Jesus as given in the New Testament, and of the prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament (Holy Taurat). Likewise, long-held, established facts about Jesus Christ’s life and death are denied in the Qur-an. At the same time the Holy Quran [Qur-an 4:47] declares that what Jesus taught is true.
Those who teach in the name of Islam seem to dismiss them too. They say that both the Mosaic Law and the Christian Gospel had been corrupted in transmission, [Qur-an 16:102, footnote 2142 (King Fahd edition)]. Yet, this is held by Muslims to only apply to some matters but not to the totality of the New and the Old Testaments. And so, while respecting the Bible, certain accounts and doctrines taught in the Old and the New Testaments are rejected as erroneous (See Appendix 3, pp. 333-334, The Holy Qur-an, King Fahd edition, which includes an English translation).
Why? Is this because those Books are associated with some who outwardly professed the Jewish or the Christian faiths but who failed to live accordingly?
Have you ever thought carefully about this and have you ever wondered whether Muslims unwittingly have neglected very important and enriching parts of the Divinely revealed message? Have these been lost to Islam? Should these be re-discovered through being open to the teachings of Jesus and to the New Testament teaching about Jesus as part of their duty to God and to Islam? Should Muslims recognise this and allow their understanding of the Lord, their God, to be deepened by becoming more acquainted with their religious roots and their associated scriptures which they salute but do not absorb?
My friend, may you be guided in this matter by the One who is All-wise.
Goodbye and God be with you until we meet again.
Islam and the Holy Trinity
(Another letter to my Muslim Friend)
Greetings to you, my friend, once again. May we look at another aspect of our belief.
A seemingly insurmountable difficulty Islam has with Christianity is the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which proclaims that there are Three Persons in One God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In his firm belief in the One Indivisible God, the Prophet Mohammed declared: “They disbelieve who say: Allah is one of three (with an editorial interpolation: ‘In a Trinity’) for there is no god except One God” [Quran 5:73].
This area of misunderstanding is just that, because Christians firmly reject polytheism, and are one with those who say, One God, not three.
To the Prophet Mohammed, to refer to God as ‘Father’ was too much like descending to the level of the local religions of his times with their pagan gods who sired offspring.
To speak of Jesus as the ‘Son of God’ was equally unacceptable: how could the eternal God could have had a son, a term which in human parlance was vested with biological rather than theological connotations; the Son, who Christians held to be the historical human person called Jesus, son of Mary. This too seemed pagan, preposterous and blasphemous. “And (they) impute falsely, without knowledge, sons and daughters unto Him…How can He have a child when there is no consort for him…?” [Qur-an 6:101-103.]
Towards better understanding
Although Christian theologians have written extensively and in-depth about the revelation that there are Three Persons in One God, they all realised that none could or would ever be able to fully comprehend or explain it. Nonetheless, Christians teach and accept it as a mystery revealed by God. But what good does this do for the perplexed Muslim?
Perhaps, Muslims may find some basis for understanding this Christian doctrine, if we begin with what the Catholic Priest and Theologian Hans Kung has said in summary on the subject:
“In the New Testament, believing in God the Father means believing in the One God. ‘Father’ should not be understood literally, as opposed to ‘mother’, but symbolically or analogously.
‘Father’ is a patriarchal symbol (with maternal features) for a primordial ultimate reality that transcends humanity and sexuality. That means – and the Qur-an has a great deal to say about this – power and at the same time compassion, care as well as protection, dependency and security.
“Understandably, however, the Qur-an, while it has ninety-nine names for Allah, avoids the name ‘Father’, which from Muhammed’s standpoint was hopelessly compromised by the tribal religions of Arabia, with their belief in the children of the gods.
“Believing in the Son of God means believing in the revelation of the One God in the man Jesus of Nazareth. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is primarily viewed … as a human historical person, concretely related to God: the ambassador, Messiah, word of the eternal God in human form.
“Believing in the Holy Spirit means believing in God’s power and might at work among human beings in the world” (See Küng 1987:120-121).
Let us now look at the Holy Qur-an itself, at something which you, my friend, might well consider. Jesus is referred to as a Word from Him (Allah) [Q 3:45], and was conceived by Mariam (Mary) as a Spirit from Allah [Q 4:171]. This makes it clear that Jesus existed before his conception and birth, and was from Allah. This makes Christian reference to Jesus as Son, and Allah as Father, perfectly justifiable. There is nothing biological or blasphemous here. The Holy Qur-an says so, as does the Gospel.
I sincerely hope that now you, my friend, would recognise this.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity has nothing whatsoever to do with polytheism. It is the fuller revelation, given in the New Testament by Jesus Christ, about the eternal inner Nature of the One Only God. That Nature was always there, preceding creation and eons before the historical Jesus was born. This is God’s generous self-revelation to those who are His people, who yearn to know Him, and who thus are grateful to know. And for this should we say “No thank you!” or cry out “Anathema!” What do you think?
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity tells us not so much about what God does or can do, or about his attributes, but Who God Is within the Godhead. Christians accept it as God-given and Christ-revealed.
The revelation of the inner nature of God has been thought by some to have been foreshadowed in the Old Testament, in the account of the three men/angels who visited Abraham by the terebinth (oak) of Mamre. They told him that his wife Sarah would have a son, despite her advanced years. The Book of Genesis (Chapter 18) tells how the Lord/Yahweh appeared in the three men, and that Abraham addressed them continually in the singular.
Then again through the prophet Isaiah, Yahweh promises the Messiah who would be filled with his Spirit (Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, 48:16, 61:1, 63:9). In the New Testament there is explicit and ample reference to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (eg. in Matthew 28:19; 11:27; John 1:1; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3; John 14:17,26; 16:13; 7:39; 15:26; 2 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Ephesians 4:4-6; John 6:44; Romans. 8:14; John 17:21-23, John 14:23).
(N.B. The term ‘Holy Spirit’ is not to be confused with its Qur-anic use, commonly when speaking of the Angel Gabriel).
A contemporary portrayal
Perhaps you may find the thoughts of the Capuchin priest, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, (Preacher of the Pontifical Household) illuminating. Speaking on the source of love, in a homily given on the 20th of May, 2005, he expressed it this way:
“Isn’t it difficult enough to believe that God exists, that we must also have added to it the enigma that he is ‘one and triune’? There are some today who would not be unhappy to leave the Trinity to one side, to be able to dialogue better with Jews and Muslims, who profess faith in a God who is rigidly one.
“Christians believe that God is triune (Three Persons in One God) because they believe that God is love! It is the revelation of God as love, made by Jesus, which obliges us to admit the Trinity. It is not a human invention.
“There is no love for the void, no love that is not directed to someone. So we must ask: who does God love to be defined as love?
“A first answer might be: He loves mankind. But we have existed for some millions of years, no more. And before then, who did God love? He could not in fact have begun to be love at a certain point in time, because God cannot change.
“Second answer: Before then he loved the cosmos, the universe. But the universe has existed for some thousands of millions of years.
“Before then, who did God love to be able to define himself as love? We cannot say that he loved himself because to love oneself is not love, but egoism or, as psychologists say, narcissism.
“Here is the answer of Christian revelation. God is love in himself, before time, because he has always had in himself a Son, the word, whom he loves with an infinite love, that is, in the Holy Spirit. In all love there are always three realities or subjects: one who loves, one who is loved, and the love that unites them.
“The God of Christian revelation is one and triune because he is communion of love. Theology has made use of the term ‘nature’ or ‘substance’ to indicate unity in God, and of the term ‘person’ to indicate the distinction. Because of this we say that our God is one God in three persons.
“The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is not a regression, a compromise between monotheism and polytheism. It is a step further that only God himself could make the human mind take.”
May we pray that we grow closer to knowing God a little more than we do. You see, from my childhood I was taught that we were made to know God, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to happy with Him forever in the next.
God bless you, my Muslim brother, my sister, my friend.
Until we meet again.