A. FUNDAMENTAL MUSLIM TENETS AND BELIEFS
1. Iman - The Faith of the Muslim.
In every religion one finds a distinction between what he adherent believes and what he does. This division of faith and practice is especially noted in Islam, the former being termed the iman of a Muslim and the latter his din. The well-known "Five Pillars of Islam" belong principally to the practice of the religion. The faith of the Muslim has basically six articles. Five of them are named in this verse:
In the original Arabic the exhortation is aamana, "to believe" (from which the noun iman comes), in Allah, the one true God; in the yawmil-akhir, the Last Day; in the malaa'-ikah, the angels, the heavenly messengers; in the kitaab, the Scripture, that is, the holy books revealed by God; and in the nabiyyin, the prophets, the earthly messengers. Added to this is belief in qadar (or taqdir), the divine "measure", that is, in effect, God's sovereign control over all things and the irreversible destiny of the whole creation according to his express decrees. A Muslim is required to believe in these articles of faith. Denial of any of them leads to kufr the opposite of iman, namely deliberate unbelief. All these six articles constitute the basic iman o the Muslim and a fine definition of iman in Islam is found in this quote:
It is not enough just to believe in God or even in tawhid, the unity of God. The true Muslim must be able to identify his belief in God and therefore is required to acknowledge his express communications to mankind through his angels and prophets as well as the Scriptures he has revealed. An emphasis also falls on God's sovereign determination of the human course and experience and, just as Islam and Muslim come from the same root letters and mean "Submission' and "One who submits" respectively, so the true believer resigns himself to the Divine Will and does not deviate from its nature and decrees. It is not surprising therefore to find in the six articles of faith three that relate exclusively to this principle, namely God's undivided unity, the control he exercises over all things, and the Day of Reckoning to come.
At the same time one finds that such convictions of faith are to be exercised against the forces arrayed in opposition to the Divine Will. An important verse in the Qur'an to this effect is:
A Muslim therefore not only believes (yu'min - another derivative of iman) in Allah but also disbelieves (yakfur) in Taghut (originally the name of one of the Meccan idols but in the Qur'an used apparently as a name for the devil himself). Kufr in the Qur'an does not mean a lack of faith in the truth but implies a deliberate disbelief and we therefore find that those who willingly reject God's messages are called Kafirun, "disbelievers" or, even more appropriately, blasphemers . So a true believer believes in God, his revelations, and his decrees, but disbelieves in the devil and his works.
Despite these positive elements, the word iman does not carry quite the same meaning as "faith" in Christianity. It is related purely to the concept of Islam itself, namely a submission or simple resignation to God's will. The act of trusting or confiding in God, the essence of Christian faith is not conveyed in the basic meaning of iman. A more detailed analysis of the distinction between these concepts and the effects they have on Christianity and Islam respectively will be found in the chapter on Abraham's faith in the companion volume to this book.
2. The Islamic Concept of God.
The heart of the doctrine of God in Islam is tawhid, the "unity" of Allah. Yet this doctrine, from a Christian point of view, proposes a bare unity, one which seems to restrict the character of the divine being to a solitary personality in many ways detached from all that he has created. The Qur'an sets him forth as entirely distinct from all that he has created and later Islamic orthodoxy followed this theme even more ardently, believing that the further God could be removed from his creation, the greater he was. Accordingly it is not surprising to find that, of all God's attributes, it is his power that most impresses the Muslims.
Of all the Qur'anic terms, perhaps the most basic, comprehensive and revelatory at once of divine nature of the universe is the term amr which we have translated above as order, orderliness or command. To everything that is created is ipso facto communicated its amr which is its own law of being but which is also a law by which it is integrated into a system. This amr, that is order or command of God, is ceaseless. (Rahman, Islam, p.34)
This awesome power that is vested in the Almighty finds expression in many forms. "God doeth what He willeth" (Surah 14.27) - no one can question his actions or decrees. He sets on a right path only those whom he pleases to guide (Surah 2.272). The theme of God's sovereign power to direct the affairs of men, determine the future, act as he chooses, and create what he wills, is one of the commonest Qur'anic themes. Throughout the book there pervades an atmosphere of divine control and foreknowledge respecting all things that happen. This verse seems to sum it all up:
The last sentence occurs frequently in the Qur' an and one often finds it inscribed on plaques in Muslim homes. It reads in Arabic: Wallaahu 'alaa kulli shay'in qadiir - a phrase regularly on Muslim lips. No Christian doubts the awesome power and control that God has over everything but the Islamic emphasis on this attribute paradoxically tends to detract from his glory in many ways. One of the side-effects of the determination to distinguish the character of God from his creation is that Muslims actually learn less of what he is really like and tend to think of him in negative terms. The following quote from the creed of the great early Muslim theologian an-Nasafi well illustrates the point:
The Originator of the world is God Most High, the One, the Eternal, the Decreeing, the Knowing, the Hearing, the Seeing, the Willing. He is not an attribute, nor a body, nor an essence, nor a thing formed, nor a thing bounded, nor a thing numbered, nor a thing divided, nor a thing compounded, nor a thing limited: He is not described by quiddity, Mahiyah, nor by modality, Kaifiyyah, and He does not exist in place or time. There is nothing that resembles him and nothing that is beyond His Knowledge and Power. (Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, p.60).
While he goes on to speak of God's attributes in positive terms this section does show why it has been suggested that Islam thrives on telling one what God is not rather than what he is. Al-Ashari, the famous Muslim theologian who deserted from the "free-thinking" Mutazilites and who was largely responsible for the demise of this rationalistic group in Islamic history, likewise gave a very negative description of Allah's nature in his Makalat al-Islamipin, part of which reads as follows:
In fact, of the forty-eight statements made about God in the whole creed, no less than forty-three are couched purely in negative terms. As the author of the book says, "This description of the Godhead ... is chiefly negative" (op. cit., p. 74). One might well ask, just what can we truly know about (,od if there is nothing in all that we see, heal or know that can assist us to comprehend his nature? A Muslim writer has this to say:
The Christian analyst cannot help wondering whether Islam's "simple" concept of bare unitarianism, so often defined in negative terms, does not in fact weaken itself in that while it emphasises God's power, it does away with the complexity of his divine love and holiness as revealed in the Triune God of the Bible. The proclamation that the second person of the Divine Trinity humbled himself by taking human form that he might establish a greater relationship between God and his creation, and was thereafter "crucified in weakness" that he might reconcile men to God and give them access in one Spirit to the Father, does well appear to be the antithesis of the Islamic dogma that the further Allah can be removed and distinguished from his creation, the more he is glorified.
It is true that the Qur'an teaches that wherever men gather together in conversation, Allah is one among them (Surah 58.7) and that he is nearer to man than his jugular vein (Surah 50.16). The Qur'an likewise speaks often of the wajhullah - the Face of Allah" - which true believers seek and desire (Surah 6.52) and which no one can escape (Surah 2.115). Nevertheless there is no suggestion that men can enter into a relationship with God such as is found in the Biblical relationship between the Eternal Father and his children.
The Muslim cannot know God personally - the best he can endeavour to do is to walk in the sabilillah - the "Way of Allah" (another common Qur'anic phrase). Above all the Islamic concept of God's power as an absolute quality in itself which cannot be revealed in any form that might relate him to his creation deprives Islam of the awesome consciousness of God's glory revealed in the revelation of himself in the man Christ Jesus. The Bible speaks of "Christ, the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1.24) - indeed a form of God's power truly unknown to Islam. While it fears that his power will be limited if it in any way relates him to his creation, it ironically limits that power in its own way by refusing to recognise that there are other ways in which God can reveal his glory than by standing aloof from his creation as an eternal potentate.
3. God's Love in Islam and Christianity.
The prominence given to God's autocratic powers in Islam results in a jealously preserved distinction between him and his creation as we have seen. Any suggestion that God is willing to reach down and meet man where he is and in grace express his willingness to enter a relationship with him seems, to the Muslim mind, to imply a strange deference on God's part, a sign of weakness more than anything else. Accordingly Islam neither understands nor accepts the Christian confidence in God's personal grace and love towards wayward sinners, summed up in the expression "God is love" (1 John 4.8). Although the Qur'an speaks of love between God and man, this love is really confined to devotion to duty on the part of man and a corresponding approval on God's part. There is no room for sentiment, sympathy or heartfelt affection in the Qur'anic deity.
To Mohammed the religious motive for a type of conduct that is pleasing to Allah is primarily gratitude. The Prophet's sense of God's transcendence is so strong that he speaks but rarely of love toward God (76.8, 3.29). (Andrae, Mohammad: The Man and His Faith, p. 72)
It would not be fair to say that the Qur'an portrays Allah as a soulless despot simply acting according to his own whims and fancies. The Muslim is promised that he is "full of kindness to those who serve him" (Surah 3.30) and the next two verses speak openly of his love for those who love him:
Nonetheless there is nothing in the Qur'an that approaches the Biblical "We love, because he first loved us" (1 John 4.19). According to the Qur'an God only loves (that is, approves) those who obey him - he does not love those who turn their backs on him. It is only in the Bible that we find the grandest of all divine attributes - God's self-giving love to reconcile those who hitherto were his enemies: "But God shows his love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ dies for us" (Romans 5.8). The Qur'anic word for love is hubbun as found in its various forms in the text. At best it corresponds to the Greek filia - a natural disposition towards that which is found appealing. The word is nowhere used in a context corresponding to the common New Testament word for God's love, agape, implying a love which expresses itself in selfless compassion and affection not necessarily considering the worthiness of its object. The gift of God's Son as a sacrifice for the redemption of evil, godless men whom God in love and pity chose to save is the ultimate expression of this kind of love. The Muslim concept of God's love, as appears from Surah 3.31 quoted above, is chiefly expressed in the bestowal of rewards as a favour towards duty performed.
The love of God which is spoken of in the Qur'an is not what is meant in the Bible by the expression 'the love of God'. In the first place, it does not express an attribute of God Himself, but a relation which He assumes towards men conditioned by their attitude to Him . . . The expression 'the love of God' is thus seen to mean the approbation of God. That which God approves he 'loves'. (Gardner, The Qur'anic Doctrine of God, p. 45, 46).
The latter author says of the Qur'anic word for love: "Of disinterested and unselfish love there is no trace at all in the use of the word in the Qur'an" (op. cit., p. 47). As a result there is also no scope for the development of a positive, experimental relationship of mutual love between God and man. To Islam such a thing seems to detract from God's foremost attribute, his power over and above all his creation. To Christianity there is nothing that so glorifies God as the gracious, condescending love he has shown in reconciling believers to himself through the gift of his Son and in communing with them through the Holy Spirit whom he has poured into their hearts.
As a German theologian has put it, "The God of Mohammed is in the wind, and the earthquake, and in the fire, but not in the still small voice of love" (quoted in Zwemer, op. cit., p. 101). Muslims boldly claim that Islam has the "simplest" and "purest" monotheism. On the contrary there is nothing to compare with the Christian concept of God - a loving Father who has given the greatest display of his love that could ever have been given in the gift of his Son and who has entered into a deliberate fellowship with men through the gift of his Spirit. The trinitarian monotheism of Christianity reveals a God of outstanding grace, love and glory. In comparison the "simple" monotheism of Islam fades into a bare and somewhat deficient unitarianism.
4. Angels and Demons in the Theology of Islam.
There are many similarities between the Biblical and Qur'anic concepts of the existence and character of angels and demons. The Qur'anic word for angels is mala'ikah and for demons jinn. The former were created from nurnar (fire). Whereas all demons in the Bible are evil spirits, the jinn of the Qur'an consist of believing spirits as well as evil spirits (a party of them is said to have embraced Islam after Muhammad had preached to them just after his abortive visit to at-Ta'if - Surah 72.1).
There are four archangels according to Islam, namely Jibril, the angel of revelation (the Biblical angel Gabriel), Mikal (the Biblical Michael), Israfil, who will sound the trumpet at the last day, and Azra'il, the angel of death described in the Qur'an as malakul-mawt, the "angel of death" (Surah 32.11). The first two are mentioned by name in Surah 2.98 whereas the names of the last two are only found in later works. The Qur'an mentions a number of other angels, either by name or according to their functions.
Islamic tradition states that another angel, Ridwan, guards Paradise and that the dead are visited by two further angels of hideous appearance, Munkar and Nakir who question the deceased about his beliefs, his prophet and his religion. If the dead man answers satisfactorily (i.e. that Muhammad is his prophet and that Islam is his religion), the angels depart from him, otherwise they torment him to the Last Day.
The Qur'an follows the Bible in teaching that there is one great demon who was responsible for the fall of Adam and Eve and the expulsion of the human race from the Garden of Eden (Jannatul-'Adn, said to have been in Paradise and a name for heaven itself in the Qur'an - Surah 9.72). As in the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve (Adam and Hawwa) were created perfect but were tempted to sin by the Evil One.
The Qur'an repeats, in its own words, the story of Adam's fall but alleges that Iblis was rejected because he refused to bow down with the other angels after God had created man and had commanded them to bow in obeisance before him:
The Bible plainly teaches that Satan was once the highest of angels but fell through his pride in seeking to exalt himself and make himself like the Most High (Isaiah 44. 1215, Luke 10.18). Although the Qur'an gives a different reason for his abasement, it confirms that he was cast down and became the most evil of all God's creatures (Surah 7.13). Nevertheless one finds that Muslim writers generally deny that Iblis had ever been an angel.
A misconception held by several Orientalists is that Satan was originally an angel before being cast out of Heaven for not paying homage to Adam. The Qur'anic statement about this problem is crystal clear (18.50). Iblis was of the Jinn, although the injunction of homage was issued to him as it was to the angels. (Khalifa, The Sublime Qur'an and Orientalism, p.216).
As the Qur'an states that he was minal-jinn, "from the Jinn" (Surah 18.50) and that he was created min-nar, "from fire" (Surah 7.12), Muslim commentators reject the Biblical concept that he was at first a genuine angel. On the other hand, in more than one passage it is expressly said that it was only lil-mala'ikah, "to the angels", that the command came to bow to Adam and that they all did so illa-Iblis, "except Iblis" (Surah 2.34). It appears that there may have been some confusion in Muhammad's mind regarding the original character of Satan. He clearly taught that he was one of the jinn and made of fire, and yet included him among the number of his original state.
5. Was Muhammad able to Perform Miracles?
Another feature of the six articles of faith of iman that should be considered is the teaching of the Qur'an regarding the miracles of the prophets, in particular the inability of Muhammad to emulate the ayat of the former prophets. The Qur'an is quite unambiguous in teaching that Muhammad was not endowed with the power to perform miracles:
In Surah 17.90-93 the Quraysh question why Muhammad has not been able to perform signs on earth or "cause the sky to fall in pieces". He is bidden to reply: Hal kuntu illa basharaar-rasuulaa - "Am I anything except a man, an apostle?" (Surah 17.93) Even though the Qur'an is quite clear about this matter, one finds numerous traditions ascribing miracles to Muhammad. The reason for this later development in his biography contrary to the teaching of the Qur'an is not hard to find:
A wealth of stories about Muhammad's power to make water flow from between his fingers and other fanciful elements abounds in the Hadith literature and in this case there can be no doubt that such hadith, even if found in the works of Bukhari or Muslim, are forgeries and that for a very good reason - "With respect to all such stories, it is sufficient to say that they are opposed to the clear declarations and pervading sense of the Coran" (Muir, The Life of Mahomet, p. liii). Significantly, however, one finds that such miracles are not as common in the earliest works, e.g. Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasulullah. Nonetheless some writes, including the great commentator al-Baidawi, believe that the Qur'an records a miracle in one passage which has duly been attributed to Muhammad as a work which he himself performed:
Apart from all the other miracles attributed to Muhammad in the Hadith, the splitting of the moon referred to in this verse is also recorded as a sign which he performed:
It is highly probable, however, that this tradition was invented to make the Qur'an support the teaching of the Hadith that Muhammad could perform miracles. Nevertheless we have seen that the Qur'an expressly denies that he had such powers and declares that he was nothing more than a warner and that the Qur'an itself was his sole miracle.
Many modern writers interpret the splitting of the moon referred to in Surah 54 as a sign of the end times, even though it is mentioned in the past tense in the text. Maulana Daryabadi, in his one-volume translation of the Qur'an, says: "The past tense has been used here as so often in the Qur'an, for the future" (The Holy Qur'an, p. 1454). The great Egyptian Muslim scholar Muhammad Rashid Rida also rejected the splitting of the moon as a sign performed by Muhammad:
Another writer makes the same point: "If Mohammed had really split the moon asunder, he would most certainly have referred the Koreish and the Jews to this miracle, when they demanded that he should show them one, and so have convinced them. But the fact is, that whenever he was thus pressed, he excused himself by acknowledging that he was not able to work a miracle" (Pfander, The Mizan ul Haqq; or Balance of Truth, p. 107). It is probable that the rending asunder of the moon is simply one of many signs of the Last Hour mentioned in the Qur'an.
In another passage in the Qur'an it is said that the moon will be "buried in darkness" (Surah 75.8 - reminiscent of Matthew 24.29 - "the moon will not give its light") and that the sun and moon will be joined together (Surah 75.9 - so also Luke 21.25: "there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars"). As the Qur'an disclaims Muhammad's power to work miracles and as a very logical explanation of Surah 54.1-2 can thus be given, there does not seem to be any validity in the Muslim claim that Muhammad himself split the moon in half (and presumably put it together again!).
It is refreshing to find that a number of modern Muslim writers deny that Muhammad had the power to work miracles:
Disclaiming every power of wonder-working, the Prophet of Islam ever rests the truth of his divine commission entirely upon his Teachings. He never resorts to the miraculous to assert his influence or to enforce his warnings. (Ali, The Spirit of Islam, p. 32).
Both these writers suggest that it was not necessary for Muhammad to produce miracles to substantiate his claims. The Qur'an itself was a sufficient proof of his sincerity. It is interesting to find in these works the suggestion that Muhammad's inability to perform signs and wonders was not a defect in his prophetic character but a testimony to his greatness which did not need evidences of this kind.
It is interesting to observe that while in the past Muhammad's inability to perform miracles was felt as a lack and caused later tradition to ascribe miracles him; in the present it is exactly this fact that he did no miracles which is viewed positively. (Weasels, A Modern Arabic Biography of Muhammad, p. 86).
One wonders, however, about the appropriateness of Ali's suggestion that Muhammad did not have to "resort to" miracles, a theme maintained by Haykal: "he never resorted to miracles as previous prophets had done, in order to prove the veracity of his revelation" (The Life of Muhammad, p. lxxvii). These words seem to imply that the former prophets exhibited a weakness in character not shown by Muhammad in that they "resorted" to external proofs of their mission. It appears that the truth is that they possessed a power which he did not enjoy and that even if he had wished to "resort to" working miracles, he would have been unable to do so.
If Muhammad is to be commended in any way for not venturing to perform miracles, perhaps his sincerity in disclaiming the power to do so is the best commendation that can be given to him: "to my mind the most miraculous thing about Mohammed is, that he never claimed the power of working miracles" (Bosworth Smith, Mohammed and Mohammedanism, p.344).
6. The Doctrine of Sin and Forgiveness in Islam.
There are many similarities between the Qur'anic and Biblical concepts of sin and divine forgiveness. Islam recognises that evil deeds are an affront to the Creator of all men and merit his punishment, and yet teaches that God will exercise forgiveness and remit the sins of the faithful. Wallaahu Ghafuurur-Rahiim (Surah 5.77) expresses a common Qur'anic dictum - "Allah is the Forgiving, the Merciful". Nevertheless there are major differences between the relative concepts of sin and forgiveness in the two books. Islam knows nothing of original sin - the basic disposition and tendency in all men to sin arising from the sin of the one man Adam in which the whole human race was implicated. It also knows nothing of an atonement for sin and therefore has no instrument by which a Muslim can be totally assured of the forgiveness of all his sins this side of the grave. Every Muslim hopes dearly in the forgiveness of God but most of them acknowledge that they will have to make some payment for their sins, whether through torments in the grave before the Day of Judgment, or for some period thereafter. Their hope is that God will ultimately forgive them.
Regarding the "kinds of sins" in Islam it has become the norm to distinguish between great sins which merit certain punishment (and possible exclusion from Paradise) and lesser sins which can easily be forgiven to believers if they repent of them immediately.
The greatest of all sins is shirk, "associating" partners with Allah. All idolaters are guilty of this sin and the charge is regularly laid at the feet of Christians as well. This sin is unforgivable and, if not repented of, will assuredly lead the sinner to hell. Other major sins are usury adultery, cowardice before infidels in battle, disobedience to parents and false notions about God's forgiveness (either a casual presumption of it or a despairing of his mercy).
The intercession of Muhammad for his community on the Last Day is one of the greatest of all the hopes of the individual Muslim. He is alleged to have said that he will intercede for all Muslims and that even though some may be severely punished for their sins, no Muslim will remain in hell forever. Others believe that his intercession will avail to keep all Muslims out of hell and that no Muslim will be touched by the fire. The Qur'an tends to indicate that Muhammad had other ideas about the possibility of intercession on the Day of Judgment:
Another verse in the same Surah states that no bargaining, friendship or intercession will avail on that Day (Surah 2.254). Intercession is the heart of the Christian hope yet it is an intercession of a different kind. It is not that of the advocate who pleads for mercy for his client, it is that of one who has already paid the penalty. Islam sees no need of an atonement because it does not recognise the Christian teaching that sin is a state of mind and heart, a disposition of rebellion against God which estranges the creature from the Creator and sets him at enmity with his Lord. Islam allows that the wicked are possessed of a proud insolence and opposition to God but it does not perceive that the sins of all men, whether great or small, stem from a universal rebellion against God's holy law. Furthermore it stops short of declaring, as Christianity does, that God has a naturally holy and righteous character and that men who sin against him are shown to be expressly devoid of this holiness and are accordingly thoroughly unholy and unrighteous.
Sins, according to Islam, are evil deeds committed in defiance of what God prohibits which can be cancelled out by good deeds done in submission to his requirements. Evil deeds are only such because God declares them to be so, not because they are naturally evil in the face of his holy character as Christianity teaches. As a result there is no true conviction of sin in Islam.
There is no cry from the depth of the heart in a Muslim motivated by the influence of Islam, that compares with Paul's "Wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7.24). Until the Muslim recognises that all sin affects the human personality and separates man from his all-Holy Creator, he will see no need of redemption through the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
7. The Last Day and the Life Hereafter.
The Qur' an follows the Bible in teaching that a Day of Judgment is coming and that the destiny of all men is to heaven or hell. There are numerous titles in the book for this great Day, the most common being Yawmal-Qiyamah, the "Day of Resurrection", as-Sa'ah, "the Hour", Yawmal-Akbir, the "Last Day", and Yawmid-Din, the "Day of Reckoning". The earliest surahs are full of warnings about the awesome fate awaiting those who go astray which will be determined on that Day. A common expression in Surah 77 is Wayluy-yawma'ithil-lilmu-kath-thibiin - "Ah woe, that Day, to the Rejecters of the Truth".
It has become common in "enlightened" Christian and Muslim circles to regard the doctrine of everlasting bliss for the righteous and everlasting torment for the wicked as a legacy of those years when the minds of men were not as refined as they are supposed to be today. There can be little doubt however, that both the Bible and the Qur'an teach that the human race will be divided on that Day and that each man's destiny will be determined forever. In his parable about the separation of the nations to the left and the right, the former to eternal punishment and the latter to eternal life (Matthew 25. 31-46), Jesus left no room for a purgatory, no possibility of a fire escape in hell. The Qur'an likewise makes the same point in saying:
In the historical creed known as Wasiyat Abi Hanifa, in one of the articles, which has a parallel in another similar creed entitled Fiqh Akbar II, we find the eternal character of heaven and hell unambiguously taught:
The Qur'an constantly proclaims that the righteous and the wicked will remain in their places of destiny. There is no strand of teaching in the book that allows for the possibility that those sent to hell will eventually be allowed into Paradise and be declared worthy of its blessings.
Another writer draws the same conclusion about the systematic teaching of the Qur'an on this point: "The result of the Judgment is either everlasting bliss or everlasting torment. There is no intermediate condition" (Watt, Bell's Introduction to the Qur'an, p. 160). Some Muslim writers today, on he other hand, seem to regard the Qur'anic hell as some kind of spiritual hospital, a reformatory for sinners prior to their admission to Paradise. One says that "Hell is intended to raise up man by purifying him from the dross of evil, just as fire purifies gold of dross" (Ali, The Religion of Islam, p.256) and yet another that "Hell means a state of soul whose faculties are defective or diseased and whose reactions, consequently, are painful in contrast with the pleasant and agreeable reactions of a healthy soul" (Zafrulla Khan, Islam: Its Meaning for Modern Man, p.193). There is no suggestion here that hell is, in fact, a place of punishment, an awful place of eternal damnation. It is not surprising to find that the latter writer also denies the possibility of a literal, physical resurrection of the body at the Last Hour: "Life after death cannot and does not mean that the dead will be re-assembled and reconstituted upon the earth" (Zafrulla Khan, op. cit., p.185). This appears to be in direct contrast to the Qur'anic teaching which says: "Does man think that We cannot assemble his bones? Nay, we are able to put together in perfect order the very tips of his fingers" (Surah 75.3-4).
A contrast has often been drawn between the Christian and Qur'anic concepts of Paradise and Hell. The Qur'anic title for heaven is jannat (usually followed by a descriptive epithet - for example, Jannatul-Firdaus, "Garden of Paradise") and for hell jahannam (apparently derived from the Greek form of Gehenna), The descriptions of Paradise are often somewhat sensuous in the Qur'an and tend to create the image that heaven is a realm of bliss where the believer's comfort is derived from his circumstances rather than the peace and joy of his soul. He is promised gardens under which rivers flow, the attendance of young servants who never grow old and who constantly serve unintoxicating wine, a selection of beautiful, dark-eyed virgin consorts (huris), and an abundance of carpets, cushions and other forms of wealth and comfort. Muslim rulers like Shah Jehan and others came close to creating such harems on earth and yet were frowned upon for their gross self-indulgence!
The Christian paradise, although at times described in the Bible in allegorical language, is principally spiritual. There is no distinction between male and female there for the just will be transformed into the image of the angels (Luke 20. 35-36) and their joy and peace will be based fundamentally on their communion with their Lord and enjoyment of his favour and righteousness. Jesus withheld speaking of "my joy" (John 15.11) and "my peace" (John 14.27) until the last night when he was with his disciples and was all-too-conscious of the horrors that awaited him in the next twenty-four hours. He did so in order that his disciples might know that such joy and peace were not dependent on favourable circumstances but could be sustained through any form of adversity On the other hand the Qur'anic peace and joy appear to be dependent more on what a man will have around him to comfort him rather than on what he will be within himself.
The Qur'an does not teach that man has a fallen nature and needs to be redeemed. It regards his present nature as the original one. Hence the lower lusts and passions of the flesh are regarded as natural desires hardly in need of renunciation. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that, while the Qur'an does speak of the approval of Allah as the supreme triumph (Surah 9.72) and of the faces of believers beaming brightly as they behold the glory of their Lord (Surah 75.22-23), its paradise in no small measure accommodates the lower desires of man's nature which it teaches will remain part of his constitution in the age to come. The Christian, however, is exhorted:
While the Qur'anic paradise is principally a realm of comfort, the Biblical paradise is chiefly one of righteousness. It is indeed untrue to say that the former is purely sensual but, on the other hand, it is equally untrue to declare that the Qur'anic Jannat makes no allowances for the sensuous tendencies at work in human flesh. It teaches that there will still be male and female in heaven and in so doing it keeps the level of its paradise relative to the present order of things and hardly rises to the level of the Biblical kingdom of heaven which flesh and blood cannot inherit.
8. Qadar - The Doctrine of Predestination in Islam.
The Qur'an openly declares that God has control over all things and that nothing can happen outside of his will or that can frustrate his purpose. There is a "measure - a qadar - for everything predetermined according to the foreknowledge and express will of God. (The word most commonly used by Muslims for this control over all things is taqdir though the word qadar, from the same roots, is that used in the Qur'an and Hadith). Innaa kullli shay'in khalaqnaahu biqadar - "Verily we have created all things according to a fixed measure" (Surah 54.49) - is the Qur'anic dictum. Other verses expressing this theme are:
No soul can believe, except by the Will of God, and He will place Doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not understand. Surah 10.100
The Qur'anic doctrine of God's sovereign control over all things has been extended in the Hadith to cover everything that a man does, whether good or bad. A famous hadith to this effect reads:
Another similar hadith which declares that every action of man is foreordained so that he will do neither good nor evil except as God especially decrees, is this one:
During the early centuries of Islam this subject was much discussed and developed to the point where a degree of fatalism began to take over the simple theology of the masses.
Ahmad ibn Hazm, a member of the Zahiri sect in Islam (an orthodox group of fundamental literalists) perhaps expressed the most extreme view of those who held dearly to the doctrine of God's absolute control over everything. He held that Nothing is good, but Allah has made it so, and nothing is evil but by His doing. Nothing in the world, indeed, is good or bad in its own essence, but what God has called good is good, and the doer of it is virtuous; and similarly what God has called evil is evil and the doer of it is a sinner. All depends upon God's decree, for an act that may at one time be good may be bad at another time" (Levy, The Social Structure of Islam, p.206).
Christian writers have regularly taught that the Islamic doctrine of predestination is purely absolutist and fatalistic and have accordingly compared it unfavourably with the corresponding Biblical doctrine which upholds God s control over all things but balances this with a freedom on the part of man to do good or evil as he chooses, holding him responsible for his actions.
This may to some extent be true of the developed form of the doctrine as it appears in the Hadith and Islamic theology but it is this writer's opinion that the charge cannot fairly be brought against the Qur'an. There is no verse in the book dealing with God's qadar and control that is not matched by similar verses in the Bible. Surah 14.4 quoted above has an exact parallel in Romans 9.18 and Surah 10.100 is matched by John 7. 44. The Bible also teaches that God has predestined some for eternal life (Romans 8. 28-30) and that only those who are ordained to eternal life will believe (Acts 13. 48).
The Qur'an follows the Bible in also allowing that man has a degree of freedom to choose his own path and will accordingly be held responsible for his actions. There is a fine balance in both books between God's authority and Man's responsibility. The Bible teaches that God hardened Pharaoh s heart but also states that he hardened his own heart (Exodus 8.15). So likewise the Qur'an says:
The Qur'an constantly teaches that those who seek God's favour will be guided aright and that those who expressly choose to reject his way will be duly led astray.
Indeed one cannot help being impressed with the depth of Muhammad's conviction that God rules over everything and yet that his control is expressed primarily in setting a proportion and measure for everything while leaving men free to choose or reject faith. One of the great works of God that i~ beyond human comprehension is his absolute control over everything, his predestination of some to eternal life, and the fixed order he has set forth which no one can frustrate or hinder; and yet at the same time the freedom he allows to men to believe in him or not to do so and the responsibility he lays on them to account for their actions. There is not much distinction between the Biblical and Qur'anic teaching on this subject and, while the Qur'an may at times not even remotely approach the Bible in the depth of its teaching and wisdom, it draws very near to it in this respect.
Significantly the Qur'an does not add belief in qadar to its articles of faith in Surah 2.177. This was only done by later theologians who developed the Islamic doctrine of predestination. It does appear, however, that this was not a development in the true sense of the word but rather a retrogression, for the fatalistic spirit of much of the teaching of the Hadith on this point contrasts unfavourably with the more balanced Qur'anic assessment of God's control and measure for all things which nonetheless allows for man's own freedom to choose the path of faith or unbelief.
Muhammad and the Religion of Islam: Table of Contents