Sunday, November 03, 2002

Letter to a Moslem

The following is an answer to an anonymous Moslem who wrote in to the discussion board of Next-Wave. His message was too long to reproduce here, was evangelistic (on behalf of Islam), and was signed, "Your Brother in Humanity". The following with a few edited changes, was a response. I decided to also post this here as an open letter to all Moslems. Footnotes are at the bottom.


I think the only appropriate way for me to begin this is with an apology:
I don't know your background, whether you are from the Middle East, from the Far East, from Central Asia, North Africa or a European who has embraced Islam. You no doubt feel, as I would acknowledge, that your identification with the faith of Islam makes you a son of Ishmail, just as my embracing of faith in Isa* [there are footnotes below], the Word of Allah**, makes me spiritually a son of Isaac.
For myself, I am only a spiritual son, not a natural offspring of Isaac (having come by faith in Isa, not a convert to Judaism). I therefore feel a debt of honour to the physical sons of Isaac and Ishmail. The book of Geneses records blessings for both Ishmail and Isaac. For the gentile nations, to which I belong, no blessing is given at all -- only an opportunity to receive a blessing through the sons of Abraham, as it says, "In you, all the nations of the earth will be blessed", and "I will bless those who bless you, and and curse those who curse you."
I'm afraid that we gentile believers in Isa deserve a curse both for our past and for our present sins against you, the children of Abraham. The Crusades are definitely a blotch on our history. In those dark times, we destroyed whole communities and slaughtered, without mercy, many more Moslems than can even be measured by the recent terrorist attacks. I realise that most Moslems are equally appalled by what happened to the WTC and other attacks, and do not consider terrorism as a good thing, but if that were to be used as a measuring stick, we Christians have still done far more wrong to the Muslim community than the Muslim have, to us.
That is only one example of our past atrocities against the children of Abraham. As for the present: We loudly sing "G-d Save the Queen" at our football matches, and then proceed to bash up anyone supporting the opposite team. We put "In G-d we Trust" on our currency, and with it we finance pornographic and blasphemous films and literature with which we corrupt the rest of the world, including much of the Muslim world.
Although these examples only cover the tip of the iceberg, and my knowledge of history fails me for more, please accept my humble apologies on behalf of the Christian community for our sins. I'm sure other members of this discussion board will also affirm this confession and apology.
Having said that, I must now allude to a point on which your religion doesn't agree -- in which Islam states that no mediator is necessary in order to gain access to Allah. Because of our sins against the rest of humanity, and against the Muslim world in particular, I find I have no choice but to acknowledge our absolute dependence on the intermediary role of Isa, the Word of Allah, in obtaining forgiveness for our sins. In light of what we have done, how we've miss-used the grace of Allah in the past, the only way I feel I can proceed is to humbly acknowledge that it is only because of His mercy that I deserve to be alive, let alone be talking to you. With that in mind please allow me to speak my heart:
Looking at us now, it's hard to believe that we were, once-upon-a-time, a simple down-to-earth Middle Eastern religion, similar to Islam. In fact, we were not a religion at all, in our own right, but only one of many sects within Judaism. Messiah Isa had revealed Allah to us in a more profound way than we had known Him before, and then, had opened up the way for us to come yet closer to Him -- closer than was possible through simple Torah observance (though we believe that Isa fulfilled the Torah in that regard, so that the final veil between Allah and man was lifted in a way stimulated by the Torah. Thus true Torah observance is the acknowledging of Messiah).
So, we began with a knowledge of Allah as revealed through Isa, Allah's Word.
I think we can be open and honest here. In describing Isa as Allah's Word, of course, I'm simply using a "Islamically Correct" phrase in place of the usual Christian usage, "Son of G-d". Islam states that Allah has no offspring, and no one can be referred to as a son of Allah. Whatever the assumption was, we don't necessarily think of Isa's "Sonship" as being the result of his birth to a human mother. Rather, we see it in the same sense as His being the "Word", spoken by Allah, emanated from Allah in much the same way that the rays of the sun are emanated from the sun itself. If it's only a matter of terminology, I have no trouble on my part in dropping the phrase "Son of G-d", for the sake of this discussion.
In using the analogy of the sun, I think we are on somewhat common ground. The sun, the closest star to earth, is so hot and so full of energy that a human could never even hope to approach it directly. Yet, the rays of the sun are the primary source of sustenance to all life on earth. You have no doubt noticed, in the West, our obsession with turning our skin dark so as to look more like Middle Easterners and North Africans :-) Driven by that, we flock to the beach on our days off, where we can enjoy pure sunlight, so we can come home with darker looking skin. Even though that's as close as we can get to it, we call it being "in the sun".
As the Word of Allah, Isa revealed Him to us in much the same way. In Jewish terminology, He would be the "Shechinah" of Allah, or the "dwelling" of Allah among us. The rabbis speak of the Shechinah of G-d being present among His congregation, or among the two who gather to study Torah, or three who sit to judge, etc. We believe Allah spoke His Word, which emanated to earth in same way as the rays of the sun, and became Shechinah, in the form of a person, Isa.
In those early days, we weren't so intent on defining things, but were content to simply bask in the Shechinah of Allah, in the same way as many today like to bask in the sun. We had come to know Allah as revealed in Isa, and that seemed enough for us, as it should be. As time went on, from being a simple Middle Eastern religion, we began to try to go "up market" by explaining it all to Greek and Roman minds. Oriental religion is of the heart, but Western religion emphasises the mind. We began to search for answers using our heads instead of our hearts, thereby becoming "Westernised". In trying to have it all figured out with our rational minds, and to protect ourselves from a barrage of rational ideas from just about every source imaginable, we came up with creeds. With it, we defined the "Trinity".
To be honest, I do not find any fault with the doctrine of the Trinity*** in and of itself. But I should clarify, the "Trinity" is not about three separate individuals who came together and decided to be "G-d". To me, the word "One" goes much further than the word "Three" in describing Him. It's just that, by offering a scientific sounding definition, people began to depend on what their minds could fathom instead of what their hearts told them. They began to apply it rationally, and began approaching G-d as though there were three gods, or a family of gods. It was very simple matter, then, to add Mary as a fourth member of the "family". That just about describes the state of things when the Prophet Muhammed began his career, so to me it's quite understandable that someone of his calibre would decide to throw out the whole thing and seek to find his revelation directly from Allah Himself. If the word "Son" were to be understood as being a part of a family of gods, then I fully understand the Prophet in his rejection of the idea of Allah having a son.
"One" is an apt description of G-d. If Isa is a part of the G-dhead, then he is inseparable from that oneness. Just as the rays of the sun can't suddenly decide to move to a different part of the universe, and have no more to do with the actual sun -- they would then cease to be rays, or anything for that matter -- so the Word of Allah could never be thought of in isolation of Allah Himself. At the same time, the sun, by its nature, must have rays, or it would become a black hole. Therefore, the sun and its rays are one. The Holy Spirit is the breath of Allah, and the Word is His Shechinah, or radiance. As for His being a person, I would say that Allah can be what He wants. The rabbis say that G-d creates angels, complete with personalities, simply by giving a command, and the angel formed by that command exists for as long as it takes to fulfil that command, and then returns and merges again with the substance of G-d****. Being One G-d isn't about His person-hood, whether one or many, but being One G-d.
The Torah says man is created in G-d's image. I think we could safely say man is a very simplified and abbreviated image of G-d. Man is at his healthiest when he is "one" with himself. Some people are diagnosed with multiple personalities, but such people cannot be described as being "one". Being abbreviated and simplified, that's all man was designed for. Man is limited, but G-d is infinite. Just as the sun is composed of pure energy and too hot and radiant for man to approach any closer than the circle of earth's orbit, so are G-d's ways far above our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts -- so much so that His thoughts could be animated with personalities if He chose. As many of such thoughts G-d would choose to have, they would all agree, as G-d is infinitely "one", far exceeding man's attempts at being "one".
I know you won't agree with most of what I'm saying, but at least I think it's a way of presenting our beliefs in a way that would be of least offence to your sensibilities, and show that Christianity honours Allah as a true expression of monotheism.
As far as I see it, that leaves only one other fundamental area of disagreement: the death of Isa on the cross, and His ressurection*****.
Unlike the issues I've discussed above, this is one that I cannot play down, skirt around, explain away or even apologise for. The "offence of the cross", according to Rabbi Sha'ul, is the offence that defines us. Before the Prophet arrived on the scene, it was already offensive. To the thinking Greeks it was offensive, to the organic Jewish mind it was offensive. Unfortunately, it also offends some of us!
The offence of the cross is the only offence we are allowed (indeed, required) to maintain, but our problem is, we've offended in just about every way BUT that. We've offended you in many ways, so that we now have no choice, before Allah, but to come to you in deep sorrow and repentance. But it is through the cross, our only legitimate offence, that we can, by humbly repenting, receive forgiveness and cleansing from all our other offences that are filthy blotches on our history.
I know that nothing I can say right now can make up for the evil that has been done in the name of Messiah. I can only speak for myself, but others of us continue to offend, with militant, nationalistic, racist attitudes towards the Moslem community, while continuing to flaunt sexual and moral permissiveness in a way that would make most in the Moslem world blush.
Yet, there is so much we could learn from you: your morality, your simple faith, your furverancy, your close family unions, honouring of one another (why, in Afghanistan, which we in the West consider the most "backward" of countries, the traditional family unit is still a remarkably solid foundation for society at large, and an example we should be studying for our own benefit). This is not to mention praying three times a day and fasting one month out of the year. Most of us Christians, if we pray once a day, or fast the whole weekend, we think we've achieved sainthood.
But my personal belief is, we are slowly learning that or own ways have got us nowhere. Our only strength is in the offence of the Cross of Isa, the Messiah. Once we learn to not be offended by that ourselves, but to fully rely on that for our strength, and our way forward -- as we thus learn the humility of Isa -- you will see a profound change in us.
In Isa, the Messiah,


* "Isa" is simply Arabic for "Yeshua", which is Hebrew for "Jesus". Jesus is believed by Moslems as a prophet, and as Messiah, and the Word of Allah.
** "Allah" is simply Arabic for G-d. Even Christian Bibles in Arabic and in Bahasa-Malayu and other Moslem languages use "Allah" as the generic term for the creator of the universe. The only fundamental difference in Moslem belief is their insistence that Allah cannot have children. I personally believe it is a mistake to insist that the Moslems worship a different god than the Christians.
*** Lest any of this is taken as questioning the doctrine of the Trinity, let me just clarify. What I'm saying is simply this: at that point in history, when we sat down and begin rationalising everything and laying down creeds, we lost our innocence.
At the time, it seemed like a necessary move, both to be able to explain it all to Greek and Roman minds, and to protect ourselves from a host of rationalists who tried to steer everything in a totally different direction (ie. Marcion, Arius of Alexandria, Nestorius and others). What SHOULD we have done? I don't know. I'm not even sure that had I lived then, I would have done any better. Never the less, we lost our innocence
Once we've lost our innocence, it's hard to gain it back again. That's why it would be a mistake, at this point in history, to try to backtrack and UN-docterinalise the trinity.
Instead of trying to UN-do 1800 or so years of ecclesiastical evolution, I'd suggest that the challenge for us now, is to try to see where our original innocence (that we lost) would have taken us, and try to steer a course towards that. That is, simply, a clearer revelation of G-d as revealed in Yeshua/Isa/Jesus.
**** That's not to say Isa is no more than one of many angels created by a command of G-d. As the Word of Allah, He is permanent in the same way as the rays that eternally emanate from the sun are permanently part of the sun.
***** Islam states that though the Jews attempted to crucify Isa, they didn't succeed, as Allah rescued Isa at the last minute, so He didn't die on the cross nor rise from the dead.

No comments: