Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Searching for the True Religion? Part I

First of three parts

Dr. Adel Elsaie wrote a book, titled “History of Truth, the Truth about God and Religions”. In this book, available both in print and online, the author seeks to establish that Islam is the only true and authentic religion. In his concluding chapter, under the heading “
The Religion Criteria”, he lists eight points by which he suggests one should judge a religion and evaluate whether it is the one and only true religion.

Ironically, this chapter reads like a contradiction to the standard set forth, namely, the requirement of prudence and objectivity.When I read the chapter I concluded that the author was a denier, one who denies objective history, a denier who ignores anything that tarnishes the reputation of Islam.

In the following, I will examine each of these criteria, as well as the conclusions that the author draws from them.

Here is Dr. Elsaie’s firstcriterion:

Since we know that God is one, and we are all His people, it follows that there must be one religion... Therefore, religion should be universal regardless of race, color, time, place, wealth or gender.

The author continues to reason that Judaism should be excluded because in Judaism God prefers the Jews and only the Jews to the rest of humanity.

Problems and questions
The word “must” strikes meas a threat. Knowing that Islam is free to conquer with the sword, or what ever means in this modern era, “must” seems to deny freedom of people to be wrong. Coercion is too common in Islam and I would feel more comfortable with “should.” Now let me raise some points in regard to this argument.

First, the conclusion that Islam is the only religion contradicts the opening statement that “God is one, and we are all His people.” If we are all his people why does the Qur’an command that the infidels be slaughtered wherever one finds them? Moreover, since Jews are people of the Book, why is there such hatred of the Jews and defamation of character of the Jews? Why is there such a desire to kill the Jews since they believe in One God?

Second, what era of Jewish history is to be judged? Yahweh declared “that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (Gen.18:18 ASV) Is there a time limit on this promise? Has God abrogated this promise? When one examines the record of the Nobel prizes for science the Jews greatly out numberthe Muslim scientists. What have Muslims done to bless humanity?

Third, conversion is a mere formality. One can convert to Judaism in thought and life style without formal acceptance in a synagogue, state, or organizations. The matter of a Jewish mother is irrelevant to one’s acceptance of Judaism

My conclusion is that Judaism is not out of the running for the author’s reasoning.

A religion by definition should be understoodand practiced by all people regardless of their intellectual and educational capability. A religion should be for illiterate as well as those with the highest degree. There should not be any confusion or ambiguity in the explanation of the religion.

The author then declares that “the trinity has never been understood for two thousand years since the beginning of the Byzantine arguments until the present time.” After an irrelevant quote from a Harvard lecturer he concludes that “Islam is an extremely simple religion, that advocates Truly One God for all Creations.”

Problems and Questions
First, it would be silly to expect God to be simple. We don’t even understand the full psyche of humans, and to conclude that the Being who created the Universe, and all forms of life, including the complexity of man is simple imposes a very low view on God. Equating the word “simple” to “oneness” does not do justice to God’s nature.

As for Islam being simple that is misleading. Sure, there are the five pillars of Islam, but beyond that there is Shariah and all that is involved. One has only to consult Islamic sites where questions are answered about problems in life and one finds that Islam is very complicated and legalistic.

Second, life is complicated, and if religion should be comprehensive and deal with all aspects of life, it is impossible for that religion to be “simple”. Add to that the complexity of the nature of God, then it should be obvious that a religion that is simple will be inadequate.

In fact, further on in the chapter under Openness, the comment is made that “Anything can be discussed in Islam, except, of course, the nature of God, which is beyond human comprehension.” And “beyond comprehension” is the opposite of simple.

Immediately following the statement that Islam is simple the author attacks the Christian idea of theTrinity in claiming that no one seems to understand it. But if God is “beyond comprehension” in Islam, why would the author consider it a negative point for Christianity when he is not able to understand the Trinity? The author quotes a Harvard lecturer whose students complained that they did not understand Jesus’ words about being forsaken by God. Some concluded Jesus could not be the Son of God.

Religious maturity of Harvard students is not much different from students anywhere else. They have not been taught the great truths of the Bible and consequently do not have a grasp of what Christian faith is all about. The students are merely confessing their ignorance, not the ability to understand theology. Students have not understood the Trinity because they have never tried to understand the nature of God. Moreover, lots of students do not understand atomic physics, quarks, mesons, and other subatomic particles. I have had business students claim that they could not understand philosophy. When one declares that one does not understand something there is no reason to assume that it is wrong. One is simply confessing ignorance or stupidity. One cannot comprehend fully the nature of the Infinite God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, but we can go much further in understanding than mere ignorance, lack of study and thought.

Students often think that man is the model for thinking about God. One should start with thinking about God and man as a faint image of God.

The question of how we can know about God is important and the view of God in the Qur’an is quite different from the view of God in the Bible. Prohibiting questions about God is affirmed in Bukhari.

Narrated Ash-sha'bi: The clerk of Al-Mughira bin Shu'ba narrated, "Muawiya wrote to Al-Mughira bin Shu'ba: Write to me something which you have heard from theProphet." So Al-Mughira wrote: I heard the Prophet saying, "Allah has hated for you three things:
1. Vain talks, (useless talk) that you talk too much or about others.
2. Wasting of wealth (by extravagance)
3. And asking too many questions (in disputed religious matters) or asking others for something (except in great need).
(Sahih Bukhari 2.555)

In contrast, the Bible declares the words of God, (Isaiah 1:18)“I, the LORD, invite you to come and talk it over. Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow or wool. (CEV)

Third, if one will read the Bible, particularly the words of Jesus, one will be driven to conclude that God is not simple. One example,

"I am the way, the truth, and the life!" Jesus answered. "Without me, no one can go to the Father. If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him."

Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need." Jesus replied: Philip, Ihave been with you for a long time. Don't you know who I am? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. How can you ask me to show you the Father? Don't you believe that I am one with the Father and that the Father is one with me? What I say isn't said on my own. The Father who lives in me does these things.Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do. (John 14:6-11 CEV)


Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. The Spirit will show you whatis true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don' tsee or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you.(John 14:16-17)

Fourth, a lack of understanding on the words of Jesus about God forsaking Him shows that the author has a superficial understanding of the life and character of Jesus as he faced crucifixion. One simple answer is that he was meditating and quoting the Psalms to Himself. (Psalm 22:1) Thereare certain experiences of Jesus that emphasized his human nature but not his divine nature. He was hungry, he slept, he was thirsty, and he suffered pain onthe cross.

The Muslim author continues:

The Holy Scriptures should be unique and only the original version should be used. There should not be multiple versions that are revised and revised again by humans.... The basic Christian doctrines of the son of god and trinity exist only in the King James Version, and these doctrines are deleted from alter versions. This represents a serious problem to the Christian Faith...

But with the Qur’an, there is only one uniqu eArabic text for all times in all places.

Problems and Questions
First, the naivete of this author expressed in these comments is saddening. This is sheer false propaganda. The claim that the basic doctrines of the Son of God and Trinitye xists only in the King James Version is sheer idiocy. What is the basis for the remark? Where is the evidence for this? None is presented.

Maybe the author has not read the New Testament at all.

These great doctrines are in the original Greek New Testament, and are therefore also found in the various translations. These doctrines come from the lips of Jesus andare in modern translations as well as older ones. I have 20 different translations on my computer including the Greek texts and they all affirm that Jesus is the Son of God. The same translations give a basis for affirming the Trinity idea. The word Trinity is not in the New Testament but the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are described there–hence the Trinity.

Rejecting translations of the Qur’an is good for Muslim propagandists because a great many cannot read Arabic, understand Arabic, and are therefore ignorant of what the Qur’an declares. This keeps people under the ignorance of the teachers of Islam. When people begin to read the Qur’an in a translation they are horrified to learn the character of Mohammed as well as the message of the Qur’an.

If the author is against somany Bible translations, is he also against Qur’an translations?

Moreover, there is not just one Arabic text (see here).

Consider the following testimony of one who read the Qur’an: (and there are more like her)

The Qur’an I always found hard to take, it was sadistic, but because everyone I knew found it so beautiful I began to think it was me that I was reading it the wrong way. Mohammed, I didn’t dislike, but as hard as I tried to love him there was something holding me back. It was like for every one beautiful Hadith I read there were ten horrendous ones. The deeper I began to dig into the real Islam I found darker and darker things, until I snapped. I hate this man. How did God ever think it was a good idea to send him as a prophet?” (By “Jane” here)

The issue of an unchanging Qur’an is a claim that needs examining. Such a claim by a Muslims sounds like he should know what he is talking about. Unknown to the unsuspecting reader are the problems facing early Muslims. There were lots of variations in the suras that were being circulated.Three other codices were in existence before the official Uthmanic codex compiled by Zaid ibn Thabit, the more famous ones being Ubayy b. Ka'ab, Abdullah ibn Mas'ud and Abu Musa. Some allege even more. These codices had some significant variants with the Uthmanic codex.

Since Uthman was not a prophet how do we know that he destroyed the wrong ones and kept the right one? There are serious textual problems with the Qur’an and one may see some of them here.

Muslims often argue that the Scriptures are corrupted even though the Qur’an affirms the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians in his day. Muslims should ponder the questions: if God did not keep the Old and New Testament uncorrupted, how can one think God has kept the Qur’an uncorrupted? You might check out this article.

Following the above condition of simplicity, a religion should be opened with all its aspects. The exact history should be presented. The evolution of doctrine, if any, should be known and accessible to the public...

Islam gives freedom and full play to man’s faculty of every kind. Islam imposes no restrictions on knowledge or acquiring any information from the highest to the lowest level. Anything can be discussed in Islam, except, of course, the nature of God, which is beyond human comprehension.

Problems and Questions
One big problem is that this claim of openness is not true. Consider the fact that the Muslim world inherited much of the Greek and Roman culture and its science.

What happened to Muslim science? A division was made between Islamic science sand "foreign" science. Islamic sciences related to the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophets (hadith), legal knowledge (fiqh), theology (kalam), poetry, and the Arabic language. Arithmetic was useful for dividing inheritances, astronomy was useful for prayer time computations, and there wasa purpose for medicine. But beyond these areas Arabic science did not breakthrough to the modern era of science.

Toby Huff declared,

This means that the modern scientific world view rests on certain assumptions about the regularity and lawfulness of the natural world and the presumption that man is capable of grasping this underlying structure. In addition to subscribing to the notion of laws of nature, modern science is a metaphysical system which asserts that man, unaided by spiritual agencies or divine guidance, is single-handedly capable of understanding and grasping the laws that govern man and the universe. (The Rise of Early Modern Science, Cambridge U. Press, 1993, p. 65)

In the Arabic-Islamic world in the late 800's and early 900's there were a number of philosophers who were very liberal in their thinking, so much so that they can be described as "free-thinkers"suggesting that philosophical knowledge was the most noble and some suggested that religion was "little more than superstition." (Ibid., p. 67)

By the 12th and 13th centuries a change had taken place and thinkers were criticized for religious arguments that might lead ordinary believers astray. Ibn Qadama wrote "noone is ever seen who has studied speculative theology, but there is a corrupt quality of his mind." (Ibid., p. 68)

He had some severe words of punishment to be meted out to those who took up speculative theology. Departing from the Qur’an, the Sunna, and the Islamic sources was regarded as a tainting enterprise. Consequently, philosophy and natural science went underground. One would not like to acquire the reputation of being an impious person which could threaten your life.

In the midst of these ideological developments came the educational system of the Islamic world. The madrasas began to have influence in the 11th century and dominated intellectual life. A major feature of the madrasas was its curriculum. Instruction was centered around the religious sciences exclusively, while philosophy and the natural sciences were ignored.

Some teachers did consider the natural sciences and gave private instruction in their own homes.

A further complication for intellectual life in medieval Islamic life was the division between the learned and the ignorant. While there were various reasons among different thinkers for doing so, they all shared "the sentiment that ordinary citizens (the masses) are not capable of grasping the higher truths of philosophy" or the scripture."In some cases it was simply asserted that if a person were ‘a believer’he will know that to discuss those (philosophical) questions openly is forbidden by the Holy Law." (Ibid., p. 82)

This doctrine of concealment ran against the whole ethos of scientific development in terms of universalism and communalism. For more, go here.

The educational environment of the Madrasas continues to perpetuate a closed system of education.Criticizing or questioning the Qur’an or the Hadiths is off limits for students. They are to hear and obey, not question and doubt? So the claim that“Islam gives freedom and full play to man’s faculty of every kind” is simply a bogus claim! The lack of openness is seen in the Nobel awards in chemistry, physics, etc. in which 182 winners have been Jewish and only 9 have been awarded to Muslims.

Continuing on Part II



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