Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Islamic Caricatures of Christianity

My dialogue at the University of Toledo last Thursday evening was with Imam Farooq of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. In that dialogue (which included an Episcopalian priest) I felt I was trying to emphasize differences between Christianity and Islam. (The picture is of the Islamic Center of Toledo.)

If you go to the Islamic Center's website you can see archived sermons. In these sermons a former Imam sometimes highlights the differences and coaches his people as to how to respond to we Christians. Here's an example.

Former Imam Khattab told his people this in a sermon given in February 2002:

"I'm sure many of us will sit with some Christians and the first thing they will ask you is: do you believe in Jesus? We say yes, we believe in Jesus and we believe in the Bible. Do you believe in him as the Son of God? And we say: no. We believe in him as a Messenger of God, not as a Son of God. Because, we say, the example of Jesus is as the example of Adam: Adam had no father and no mother and in spite of that we don't call him Son of God. We believe in Jesus, as the Qur'an says of him, as being human, a Messenger of God and we refer to him as Jesus the son of Mary. Then he will proceed with another question: do you believe that he died on the cross to forgive your sins? And immediately your answer will be: no, I don't even believe that he was ever crucified. Then his answer to you is: then you are not saved because you don't believe that Jesus died on the cross.

You argue this retort as follows: if Jesus died for your sake it means that you have a blank card to do anything you want, right or wrong. So here you have a credit card, which will take you to heaven automatically. You need not pray or fast, you can kill, you can steal or do anything because Jesus already died for your sake. He says to you: no, you have to be a good and righteous person. Then you say to him: then it is one of two: either Jesus will take me to heaven or my deeds will take me to heaven. The first two verses of Surah Mulk address this argument: they read as follows: the criterion of punishment and reward is your actions. Your father will not be of benefit for you, nor your son, nor your Prophet Muhammad will be of any benefit for you: no human being will be of any benefit to any other human being on the Day of Judgment."


  • Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God; Muslims do not believe this. So we Christians will not feel embraced by Muslims who say they value Jesus as a "prophet."

  • The reason we call Jesus the Son of God has nothing to do with an Adamic analogy re. having no earthly father.

  • We believe Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins; Muslims do not believe this because the Koran says Jesus did not die on a cross. This is simply false, and historically unsupportable. Christian scholarship can make a historical case for the crucifixion of Jesus.

  • The misunderstanding of this is simply astounding when the Imam says the cross of Christ gives us a "blank card" to do anything, even kill. The idea that it's either this "blank card" to kill etc. or the need to do good deeds is simply, in logic, a false dichotomy.

  • The Christian idea is that righteousness follows from being born again and transformed into Christlikeness. One does good deeds (Christlike deeds) out of love for Christ, rather than as a means to gain heaven. Combine this with the classic Christian idea of the nature of God as holy, and one will see why "deeds" are not enough.

  • I am sure I do not understand Islam as well as the Imam does. I am equally sure that the Imam does not understand Christianity. So, he attacks a straw man.