Islam With a Difference

December 19,2005

There are many similarities in the beliefs of Christians and Muslims concerning Jesus.
(Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, Jesus a Prophet of Islam, 2002)

God forbid that He Himself should beget a son!… Those who say: ‘The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,’ preach a monstrous falsehood, at which the very heavens might crack, the earth split asunder, and the mountains crumble to dust. (sura 19:35; 19:88) 

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (N.I.V. 1John 4:9) 

Early this year the Jaffari Islamic Centre, located in an upscale north Toronto suburb, invited members of surrounding churches to a get-acquainted meeting at their mosque. 

Together with several dozen others I attended this meeting where we were introduced to a form of Islam that was very different from that proclaimed by the jihadists.  

A False Image of Islam?

The theme for the evening was the natural alliance between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, as explained in a three-page handout, written by Harun Yahya. He stated that some had been presenting a false image of Islam, “as if there were [a] conflict between Islam and the adherents of the two other monotheistic religions.” 

On the contrary, Yahya claimed that Islam is “a religion of peace, love and tolerance,” and that the Koran teaches that Muslims, Jews, and Christians should live in friendship. 

To underscore this theme, he pointed out that these three monotheistic religions have in common belief in God the Creator, in the witness of the   prophets (listing besides Jesus: Moses, Muhammad, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Joseph), and in the resurrection. 

Further, Yahya asserted that these three faith communities share a common set of moral values over against the atheism that is so influential in our time. Therefore these three religions should cooperate in opposing the godless and materialistic ideologies that are responsible for the many wars and troubles of the modern world. 

This document predicts that once these three faith communities carry out this joint struggle against the dark forces of evil, “the world will, in a very short time, embrace peace, tranquility and justice.” It exhorts them to pull together in our love of God and in obeying his commands, so that “the world will become a very different place” and the wars, “enmities, fears – and terrorist attacks – will come to an end, and a new civilization based on love, respect and peace will be established upon this  ‘common formula’.” 

Jesus: A Prophet of Islam?

Building on this theme of shared objectives, Imam Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi began his talk: “Tonight we would like to share our views about Jesus, the son of Mary, as a step in creating a better understanding between Muslims and Christians, especially in the wake of the tragedy of September 11th, year 2001.” 

He explained that Islam is more than a religion; it is a way of life, which can be divided into two parts: the beliefs and the deeds. He summarized the beliefs as follows; 1) belief in only one God; 2) the concept of divine guidance through God’s representatives known as “prophets” and “messengers;” 3) the concept of life in the hereafter, and thus a Day of Judgment. 

Rizvi said that in his traditions the number of prophets sent to guide mankind is 124,000, of whom the first was Adam and the last Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. Jesus is also included in this list. All Muslims must believe in all the prophets, without exception. If they do not, they cannot be true Muslims. 

The Prophet Jesus and his mother Mary are mentioned many times in the Koran. In fact, the name of Jesus occurs 25 times and that of Mary 34 times; a chapter in the Koran is named after her. (sura 19, “Maryam”) 

Rizvi reviewed the main themes in the Koran regarding Mary’s own birth, her being chosen to become the mother of Jesus, and his miraculous birth, as well as his healing ministry. 

The Koran describes a strange scene wherein Mary is first accused of having committed adultery. The accusing crowd is dumbstruck when they hear the baby Jesus speak, saying, among other things: “I am a servant of God, He has given me the Book, and has made me a prophet and has made me a blessed person wherever I may be….”  (Sura 19: 29-34; We were shown a short film in which this scene was re-enacted.) 

Rizvi next turned to the difference between the Islamic and Christian beliefs about Jesus. His blunt message was that Jesus is not the Son of God: “The Islamic perspective of the Almighty is such that God cannot be confined to any material or human dimension; He is the Creator and cannot be envisioned as a created being.”  Then Rizvi stated that Jesus himself, according to the Koran, never claimed to be God’s son. 

To clinch that statement he referred to a discussion between the Prophet Muhammad and a Christian delegate who asked his opinion about Jesus. The Prophet answered that Jesus was an important prophet and messenger, that’s all. When the Christian pressed him to explain the miraculous birth of Jesus, Muhammad replied that the birth of Jesus was like that of Adam, whom God created out of the dust. (see sura 3:59) 

The second major difference mentioned by Rizvi is that Islam denies the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. The Koran states: “They did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it only appeared to them so…They surely did not kill him; rather God raised him unto Himself. “ (sura 4:157-158) 

Re-Writing the Story of Salvation

To deny what the Bible clearly teaches about the two natures of Christ and the crucifixion amounts to a denial of what lies at the heart of the Christian faith.  For Rizvi to claim that there is an essential similarity between the two faiths is a preposterous denial of the very essence of biblical Christianity. 

Such denial arises out of a failure to understand the essence of the historic Christian faith. That faith is summarized in the central message of the Bible: that Christ took on human form to take upon Himself the sin of the world and thus to reconcile sinful people to a holy God. This is the good news of great joy the angels announced at the birth of the Messiah, and no one has the right to falsify that message. 

But Rizvi had one more arrow on his bow, namely, the Islamic view of eschatology, of last things. He claimed that Muslims share the Christians’ expectation of the return of Jesus. According to the canonical sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, “Jesus will return to the earth before the end of the world to assist the Mahdi*, the Muslim Messiah, in establishing the Kingdom of God on this earth. That will be the dawn of true peace on the earth.” 

He concluded by saying that his overview had shown that Islam and Christianity are closer than is often portrayed. He said that when considering the coming of the Islamic Messiah, the Mahdi, and the return of Jesus, “we see a great closeness between these two faiths. With this optimistic view of [the] future, I end with the prayer that may God hasten the special day when peace and harmony will prevail on the global level.” 

The speech was followed by a question and answer session. Most of the questions were easy and voiced in a deferential tone. Others asked more penetrating questions about the harsh words in the Koran for non-Muslims, the lack of freedom in Muslim-ruled countries, the preaching and deeds of Islamic jihad, and the denial in the Koran of Christ’s deity and crucifixion. These were met with curt matter-of-fact statements. The speaker was supremely self-confident; there was no real debate or discussion. 

A Tangled Web

 I think we should welcome attempts by Muslim leaders to reach out to Christians and Jews. We should also be ready to reciprocate. But the message presented to us at this mosque gives rise to some serious reservations. 

First of all, the irony of what is attempted by these Muslim leaders should not escape us. It brings to the surface the basic contrast between Christianity and Islam - a contrast that is mirrored in the difference between Western, democratic countries and those governed by sharia (Koranic) law. 

The bitter truth is that if non-Muslims would do something similar in sharia-law governed countries, such as denying that Muhammad is the true Prophet of God, they would be accused of blasphemy and be subject to the death penalty. The irony goes even deeper in that if these Toronto-based Muslims would promote their brand of Islam in these same countries, they would also be denounced as apostates guilty of a capital offence.   

There are obviously different strands within the broader Muslim community. It is clear that Muslim extremists must be seen for what they are, a threat to the rest of us and thus to world peace. But I wonder whether the soft-line approach of this Toronto mosque is not just as misleading and dangerous. 

The picture is also confusing on the Christian side. The fact is that the liberal branch of Christianity would have no objection to the Islamic view of Christ, salvation, and the Bible. Our challenge is to untangle this confusing mix and arrive at some clarity. 

I write as a believer in the historic Christian faith, which according to biblical revelation is centered on the Lordship of Christ in the creation and redemption of the world. Therefore I see a number of serious problems with the presentation of Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi and like-minded Muslim leaders. The main objection is that it is a gross misrepresentation of the core message of the Bible. 

It is furthermore a misrepresentation of the Koran and the other Islamic scriptures, since they contain many sections in which Christians and Jews are depicted as Infidels, to be treated as inferior (“dhimmitude”) people, coerced into accepting Islam, or to be killed. It is also a denial of the history of Islamic oppression of the Infidels during its 1400 years’ existence, of which the historical record is clear and undeniable. 

 We are asked to turn a blind eye to the reality that right now in Muslim -controlled or Muslim - infiltrated countries, stretching all the way from Northern Africa to the Far East, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and others, including moderate Muslims, are murdered in the name of Allah. 

The same can be said about the fact that extremist Muslims are preaching a message of hatred in many western countries, driven by the Islamic notion of a worldwide caliphate. 

 It seems to me that the sponsors of our get-acquainted meeting at this Toronto mosque were trying to have it both ways. They want to represent themselves as part of the worldwide, Koran-believing religionists with a history that spans nearly one-and-a half millennia. 

At the same time, they present themselves as if they appeared on the current scene fresh as a newborn baby. But in doing so, they are not telling us the whole story, or they are trying to tell us that we should just close our eyes to an ugly reality.  We should not oblige. 

None of this is intended to accuse all Muslims of being terrorists. We should welcome the many moderate Muslims who want to live in peace with the rest of us. But we are not helped by those who want to give us the hand of friendship while trying to redefine the Christian faith and refusing to face down their co-religionists who destroy and kill in the name of their religion. After all, real friendship begins with telling the truth. 

* All quotations from the speech by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi are taken from his printed booklet entitled, Jesus: A Prophet of Islam. It contains a footnote that states: The Mahdi, according to the Shi’a Muslims, is the Twelfth Imam and successor of the Prophet Muhammad; he was born in the year 255 of the Islamic era and is presently in Occultation. He also has been preserved by God and will appear before the end of this world.