Report and Reflections on the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat of Toronto, also called the Jaffari Islamic Center,
January 15, 2005.
This mosque had sent an invitation to the Willowdale CRC, and presumably other Christian churches in the area, inviting us to participate in a meeting where the similarity of Christianity and Islam would be discussed.
When I arrived, I was met by friendly members of this mosque, and we were informed to take off our shoes before we could enter the main auditorium. They had available a folder with some short articles, a 9-page booklet, Jesus: A Prophet of Islam, a 45-page booklet Discovering Islam, as well as a copy of the Koran translated by M.H. Shakir
Men and women were separated by a high wall of space dividers. I estimate there were about 60 80 people in the male section, though I did not take a careful count.
The meeting started with a brief explanation and welcome by the chairman for the evening, then a short video summary of the Muslim faith, followed by a lady from Flint, Michigan and one from a Latin American country. Both told us why they converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam. The first lady was elderly and blind and did a very poor, halting job. The second one concentrated on what the Koran says about Jesus and Mary and was a little better speaker.
The main point of the agenda was a talk by the imam Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi who told us that Christians and Muslims share their reverence for Jesus though Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to save his people from their sins. He speech covered the same material as the content of his small booklet, Jesus: A prophet of Islam, which was in the folder we received. He said that Jesus according to Islam is one of the five main prophets of Allah. The others are Noah, Abraham, Moses, and first of all Muhammad.
His main theme was that Christians should be able to accept Muslims as equal partners in our efforts to build a better word. He also stressed that Islam is a religion of peace and freedom, quoting the section of the Koran, which says that there is to be no compulsion in religion. A 3-page handout People of the Book & The Muslims: The Natural Alliance Between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, also contains the essence of imam Rizvis presentation. On a separate sheet I have reproduced a few excerpts from this handout.
While the emphasis was on the similarity, the imam also mentioned the differences, especially the Muslim rejection of the Trinity, Christs divinity, his crucifixion and resurrection. Well, that was quite a load delivered with the assurance of a man who is convinced he is telling revealed truth. Then we had a chance to ask questions. Most of the questioners came with easy ones, and some Christians were obviously quite impressed with what had been said. But a few Christians expressed their strong disagreement.
I took the opportunity to say that I was not convinced that Islam is a religion of peace and freedom in view of the treatment of non-Muslims in, e.g., Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. His brief response was that some people who call themselves Muslims are not acting in accordance with the Koran.
My second point was that Islam and Christianity are fundamentally different since we believe in the divinity of Christ, His sacrificial death and His claim that he is the only way to salvation. That was met with the statement that Christ could not have been divine because the Islamic perspective is that God cannot be confined to any material or human dimension; He is the Creator and cannot be envisioned as a created being. (from Jesus booklet)
Furthermore, Islam does not believe in the sinfulness of all people through the Fall of Adam and Eve. He insisted that a righteous God would only punish people for their own sins, not the sins of previous generations. The Muslim faith is based on the conviction that people are saved by adhering to a series of dos and donts as the Koran commands. Salvation is by works not by grace.
Quite a few lined up at the microphone to ask questions most of which were soft ones, and there was no opportunity for a give-and-take discussion. The discussion was cut off at about 8.30 without everyone having a chance to be heard.
Then we are treated to another video, showing Mary with the baby Jesus, surrounded by angry Jewish leaders who accused her of adultery. Mary remained silent in her own defence, pointing to the baby who then spoke these words according to the Koran 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. And so on. This was weird.
The meeting was intended to bring Christians and Muslims together. I believe that we must and are able to live together in peace, respecting each others freedom of religion. It is also good to hear from each other what we really believe. But to say that Jesus is an important prophet but not the Son of God who suffered and died and rose again is to deny the very heart of the Christian faith. Thats why I came away from this meeting not less but more convinced of the marvelous riches of the biblical message of Gods grace versus the emptiness of the man-made religion of Islam.