A Dialogue with a Saudi Muslim (6)
Soliman al-Buthe (or al-Buthi) wrote an Open Letter to Congress in 2005. Then he initiated a dialogue with me, so we decided on this sequence.
1. In 2005, I commented and asked questions about the Open Letter (in blue).
2. In that same year, months later, Mr. al-Buthe answered my questions and challenged me on various issues (in green). He sought the advice of Saudi religious scholars, as well.
3. Finally, in 2006, I reply to his challenges and questions (in black). Sometimes I embed this in our 2005 dialogue. I too receive help from colleagues.
This part completes the seven questions and concerns found in Part Five.
JA: 4. You write [in your Open Letter quoted in Part Five] that Christian fundamentalism is tolerated at "the highest echelons of the US government." Does this refer to President Bush?
SaB: Yes, and I am only repeating what some of Western religious leaders and churches say about him:
JA: The link you provide says nothing about "fundamentalism." President Bush is a Methodist. The denomination is liberal. It is true that the President takes his faith seriously (perhaps more so than some of his critics on the Religious Left), but this does not mean that he is a fundamentalist.
As for the report that God told Bush to "bomb Afghanistan" and "invade Iraq," the source of this report is a Palestinian who may be motivated to make the President look bad. In any case, the White House denies that the President made the comment. The American news media are made up mostly of left-of-center reporters and writers. (Ninety percent of them voted for democratic President Clinton in 1996.) They despise President Bush ("despise" is not too strong a word). If his alleged statement were true, the media would have taken advantage of it, but it was not a concern over here in the US. Bush has said repeatedly that he wants only to spread democracy and to clean up the breeding grounds of terrorism.
JA 5. You say that "Saudi fundamentalism is not based on a dispensationalist theology that seeks Armageddon." Would you please explain these two hadiths (Muhammads words and deeds outside of the Quran) that say Christ will return and break the Cross and that the last hour will not come until Muslims fight and kill Jews?
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, ". . . [S]urely (Jesus,) the son of Mary will soon descend amongst you and will judge mankind justly (as a Just Ruler); he will break the Cross and kill the pigs and there will be no Jizya (i.e. taxation taken from non Muslims) . . . Abu Huraira added: And on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them [Christians]." (4.159) (Bukhari 4:657; see Fateh Al Bari, Page 302 Vol 7)
Muslim records this saying of Muhammad:
Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews. (Muslim no. 6985)
We interpret these sayings in the light of Islamic teachings about what the Quran refers to as "People of the Book," i.e., Jews and Christians. Islam never advocated their indiscriminate killing; in fact, Islam specifically permits Muslims to eat their food and marry their women. (Quran, 5:5) It is a well-known historical fact (which many orthodox Jews admit) that the Jews were never treated better or with more tolerance anywhere in the world than during the days of the Muslim Empire. (Perhaps it is noteworthy that the Holocaust was a peculiarly Western, even Christian, event that has had enormous repercussions in the East.) It was because of Muslims tolerance that many Jews came to accept Islam, and be amongst the best of Muslims. Those ahadith quoted above are generally understood to be about particular, specific Jews who commit acts of aggression against Muslims.
JA: My comment here comes in four numbered points.
(1) First, you say that Muslims may marry "their women," meaning Christian and Jewish women. It is equally true that Christian or Jewish men are not permitted by sharia (Islamic law) to marry Muslim women. So the marriages go in only one direction, which puts Muslim men in control, according to traditional Islam. Please see my article on Muslim-Christian marriages, here.
Second, you say that Islam never advocates the indiscriminant killing of Jews and Christians. In reply, however, the Quran endorses the mass execution of Qurayza men and pubescent boys and the mass enslavement of the women and children, after the Battle of the Trench in AD 627. Sura 33:25-26 says:
What could be more "indiscriminant" than killing a whole tribe, that is, every one of the boys and men? For Muhammads troubled relations with the Jews of Medina, see this article. For his massacre of the Qurayza Jews of Medina, go here. I have read Muslim explanations for the massacre, but they do not hold up, in my opinion.
(2) You write, "It is a well-known historical fact (which many orthodox Jews admit) that the Jews were never treated better or with more tolerance anywhere in the world than during the days of the Muslim Empire." In reply, no one should deny simple facts. Sometimes a Muslim ruler was kind to Jews (and Christians), but the full story is that sometimes a ruler was oppressive. Andrew Bostom, author of The Legacy of Jihad, says that the Jews suffered or prospered under specific Ottoman rulers.
Next, Bostom reports on the indiscriminant killing of Jews and others in Palestine and the wholesale destruction of churches, synagogues, and towns, during the Caliphate of Umar (r. 634-644):
A Saudi Christian adds: "If it is true that Islam tolerated the Jews and treated them better, then why are not there any Jews left in Arabia after Islam began?"
In citing these two articles, my goal is to balance out your positive picture with hard reality. Please see Robert Spencers book The Myth of Islamic Tolerance.
(3) Five quick responses to your bringing up the holocaust: First, yes, it is true that the holocaust occurred in the West. But the leaders of Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians. Clearly, Hitler caused more deaths, but the Armenian genocide is an atrocity, also. Second, your use of the word "West" is too broad, and "Christian" is wrong. Hitler and his Nazi regime did not speak, for example, for the German Confessing Church which opposed him. (See their Barmen Declaration which opposed the "Reich Church.") Some members of the Confessing Church were imprisoned and killed. Third, Hitler and his leaders were pagans (of sorts) or atheists, not Christians. Even if they were to claim Christianity, their version does not fit the New Testaments definition of the term. Fourth, it is the Allies, also members of the West, who provided the liberation and the remedy toward the end of the Second World War. Finally, it seems that some Muslims would like to carry out genocide today.
The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says that Israel must be "wiped off the map."
Next, one of Ahmadinejads advisors says that the "Holocaust issue will result in the destruction of Israel."
The Saudi friend reminds us of these verses: "Compare that to what Psalm 83:1-5 says about Israel." The verses promise protection of his chosen people.
But what about today in Saudi Arabia? Here are some of the topics preached in main mosques:
Whether these preachers of hatred, regression, and bigotry are Wahhabi or not is irrelevant to me. The bedrock fact is this: these are the views of religious leaders who preach in main mosques throughout Saudi Arabia. None of this comes from obscure, violent radicals hidden away in a mountain range.
The Saudi friend adds:
(4) These hadiths that say that stones and trees will cry out that Jews are hiding behind them, so they should be killed, are used often by radicals to drum up hatred of the Jews generally, not only of specific Jews who commit aggression against Muslims. I have too often heard the explanation from Muslim apologists (defenders) that if early Islam or the Quran says to fight, then it is always the fault of their opponents, who are always the aggressors. It seems that Islam can do no wrong even though plain reason says that it has sometimes been aggressive. In any case, the following radical leaders (not just obscure crackpots) do not make such fine distinctions.
The next example repeats the first, but from a Palestinian:
Finally, on May 4, 2005, Egyptian cleric Sheik Mahmoud Al-Masri says this about Jews generally.
These three "Jew haters" do not come from Saudi Arabia, but they represent a deep prejudice against Jews among many Arabs, including Saudis. For example, this is a series of broadcasts on Saudi IQRA TV, about an especially wicked Jew in Muhammads day. TV programs like this only reinforce "Jew hatred." Next, one Saudi journalist is baffled by the extent of the "tremendous" hatred of Jews in his home country. Finally, these quick interviews with "the man on the street" aired on IQRA TV. Every one of them despises Jews and would not even shake their hand. The Jews are the "eternal enemies," say two Muslims. Saudis or not, the fact that these interviews were aired on IQRA TV fuels the fire of hatred in your country. But what about free speech? It could be said that IQRA TV is following this principle. In reply, are opposite views expressed? How much time does IQRA TV give to them?
Mr. al-Buthi, will widespread and vocal "Jew hatred" ever stop in the Arab Muslim world? I really hope so.
JA: 6. This online booklet, "The Day of Wrath," was written by Sheikh Safar Ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Halawi, head of the department of theology at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca. This booklet has a lengthy discussion of End Time prophecies. (Is it true that he was arrested in 1994, not for his booklet, but for his opposition to the Saudi government when it supported the South in Yemens civil war?) How do you match this booklet by a popular preacher and department chair of theology at a Saudi University with your assertion that Wahhabism does not seek Armageddon or is unconcerned with End Time prophecies?
First, All Muslims, not only Saudis, believe in the prophetic texts that include prophecies (also mentioned in the Bible) regarding events expected to happen in future. However, Muslims are ordered by the sharia not seek the creation of circumstances that materialize these prophecies; rather, we are told to believe and deal with the prophecies as they are fulfilled (please see Mixing Prophecy and Politics).
Second, Dr. Safar al-Hawali was not speaking as a Wahhabi; indeed, he himself would deny that label. No one in Saudi Arabia would call himself that. Dr. al-Hawali was simply expressing his own personal view, a view with which some scholars even in Saudi Arabia differed.
JA: I appreciate your assertion that Muslims do "not seek the creation of circumstances that materialize these prophecies; rather, we are told to believe and deal with the prophecies as they are fulfilled." This is precisely what prophecy-believing Christians do, contrary to what your linked article says. It may be true that some Christians become extreme in their beliefs, but they do not represent the mainstream. All religions have the overzealous.
Those Christians aside, I have kept track of some End Time prophecy teachers, and they do not want to bring about the end of the world. However, they indeed support Israel in practical ways, such as donations to various organizations. Why? They believe that a large army will line up to attack the Jewish State of Israel. Many of these Bible prophecy teachers now believe that Islamic nations may be involved in the final battle. After reading the quotations of "Jew hatred" in the previous section, above, who can blame them for their belief? It seems that the "Jew hatred" of many Muslim leaders gives the "End Time" Christians cause for concern.
However, these Christians do not believe that they can speed up the Last Day, when Christ returns. This is an interview of David Brog by Ed Lasky, two Jews, not Christians, who are enquiring into Christian Evangelical support for Israel.
Lasky asks Brog about the motives of these Christians. Do the motives include, at least in part, the belief that they can speed up the Second Coming? Brog replies:
Brog, who is not a Christian, it must be emphasized, is one hundred percent correct. No practical effort will speed up the Second Coming. In fact, these prophecy-believing Christians often say that prophetic events are now happening rapidly. This means that the believers do not need to do anything to hasten them. At the same time, however, they work hard at supporting Israel in practical ways because of the blessing of Abraham (Genesis 12:3), which says that all nations will be blessed by Gods promise of support for his nation, and because of the imminent danger it always faces. In supporting Israel, these Christians believe that they are following God, according to the Bible.
They certainly do not want to cause or get involved in a nuclear conflagration, as Dr. al-Hawali seems to say in his radical pamphlet. He has extreme views, which are not adequately researched in the first place, regardless of his specific religious affiliation. He is also a scholar at a Saudi University, which means his prejudices have some influence.
JA: 7. You say that Muslims revere and love Jesus. Would you please provide a fuller description of the Islamic Jesus? Do you know whether it matches up with the description in the Four Gospels?
First, I do not think the Four Gospels are consistent with one another!
Second, If the Biblical books are not historically authentic, their description of Jesus is entitled to no credence.
JA: The belief that the Gospels are historically inauthentic is widespread among Muslims, but it is factually erroneous. I have already presented some evidence of their historical authenticity in Part Two (scroll down to "Is the Bible reliable and accurate?") and in Part Three (scroll down to Point D).
The New Testament manuscripts far outnumber other manuscript traditions of ancient non-Christian books. And the chronological gap between the New Testament manuscripts and the events themselves and original writings is much, much shorter. This short article has a Comparative Table of New Testament and non-Christian manuscripts.
In the link to Part Two, above, I also challenge the incorruptibility and absolute historical purity of the Quran (scroll down to "Is the Quran pure and uncorrupted?"). It is beyond belief, swerving over into childlike na´vetÚ, to assume without checking the facts that the Quran came out of the ancient world perfectly preserved after its journey through history. This report says that 15,000 sheets of some Qurans were discovered in 1972. But the Muslim authorities will not allow their publication. What are they afraid of?
Third, the Quran differs with Christianity on its most central belief about Jesus, i.e., his being the son of God. The Quran not only states that this belief is wrong and harmful, it gives rational and religious arguments for the fact that it is impossible for God to have a child.
JA: First, it is unclear to me why the Christian belief in the Son of God is "harmful." Surely this doctrine does not, by itself and of necessity, translate into physical and material harm in some way, does it? I would not say that tauhid (strict oneness) causes "harm" by itself and of necessity. Perhaps you mean "harm" in the afterlife. However, since I am unclear on what you mean by the word in this context, I pass to the next issue.
Second, one of the main "arguments" that the Quran puts forward against Jesus being the Son of God is the mere assertion that God must have a wife or consort to beget a child. This has already been answered in Part Two, under the section "Does the Quran have a mysterious mother?" This Quranic assertion seems to be culture bound. That is, Muhammad seems to be reacting against seventh-century Arab polytheism, which says that the gods have children because of marriage or sex. Both notions, one in the Quran and the other in Arab polytheism, are rejected by Christian theology.
Fourth, the Quran tells us that Jesus was not killed, but that he left Jerusalem alive and that he will come back as a follower of Muhammad. The Quran does not say that Divine Prophets cannot be killed; indeed, many of them were. Their violent deaths are simply matters of fact.
JA: I must be honest here. This is a strange and farfetched belief. The Quran says that Jesus was made to appear to be crucified, but he was not actually crucified, according to Sura 4:157, which reads:
What is so interesting about this verse is the epistemology behind it. (Epistemology studies how we acquire our knowledge.) The relevant phrase says about those who are full of doubts about Muhammads declaration of the non-crucifixion: the doubters are "with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow." Muhammad lived six hundred years after Jesus. The prophet of Islam was no scholar or historian or researcher. Therefore, how is he so certain ("of a surety") about his belief that Christ was not actually crucified? A revelation or historical evidence? How are Muslims so certain that Jesus "left Jerusalem alive"? A revelation in the Quran or historical evidence? Incidentally, the Quran does not explicitly say that Jesus left Jerusalem alive, but since we are now in the world of imagination, this alternative to the crucifixion is as good as any.
However, even the harshest critics of the New Testament do not deny that Christ was crucified. They may doubt his bodily resurrection or his miracles, such as walking on water, but his crucifixion? None of them doubt this.
For more criticism of this "revelation" in the Quran, please see this article. I have a short section on the topic in this article. It advances the idea that Muhammad may have picked up his belief in the mere appearance (not reality) of the crucifixion from Docetism, which had been circulating along the trade routes in the greater Mediterranean world for centuries. Docetism comes from the Greek word meaning "to seem" or "to appear."
Fifth, we do not only love Jesus, we believe that one cannot be a Muslim if one doesnt.
Six, The Qur'an tells us that Jesus' birth was miraculous, for he had no father. That is why he is always referred to in Islam as "Son of Mary." The Quran tells us that he spoke while still a baby, that he could, with God's will and permission, heal the blind and the leper and raise the dead, which acts Jesus used to stress the fact that he was only a servant of God.
JA: Much of your allusion to Sura 3:49 agrees with the New Testament, except for Jesus speaking as a baby. This comes from the apocryphal gospels. See my article here, which shows that Muhammad claims revelations about events in young Marys life (see Sura 3:44) and, by extension, in the life of baby Jesus. But the evidence says that the Quran gets this specific information from non-canonical gospels. It is true that a few New Testament authors quote a line or two from non-Christian Greek poets, but the authors do not claim that they got this specific information only from Gabriel or only from a heightened state of ecstatic inspiration. Nor, especially, do they claim that they knew, whether by inspiration or Gabriel or other means, anything about the childhood of the Greek poets whom they cite.
Seven, The Qur'an also tells us about dialogue between Jesus and God in the Hereafter
Please see We Believe in Jesus by Soliman H. Albuthi.
JA: I have read your article. Again, Muhammad lived six hundred years after Jesus. So how does the prophet of Islam receive this specific knowledge about Jesus? From historical research, down here on earth? From fragments of knowledge and stories circulating over the trade routes for centuries? From a revelation? I prefer the teaching of the New Testament. These authors were apostles who knew Jesus up close and personal, or they came under the authority of the apostolic community. They had clear and direct knowledge of the events in Christs life.
And now it becomes clear why polemical Muslims must discredit the New Testament, which has passed the test of the severest of criticisms from western scholars. I again quote from these two reputable ones:
But this historical authenticity does not deter polemical and missionary Muslims. Why not? The Quran and the New Testament contradict each other on essential doctrines about Christ. So they believe that the Quranit must be believed!corrects the New Testament, even though the New Testament is much, much closer to the life of Christ than the Quran is.
In a certain sense, I am glad that Muslims love Jesus. And your article shows respect for him. However, since Islam came six hundred years after him, the Quran and the hadith are confused about him, as revealed in the following list, taken from the Conclusion of a long article. In most cases, each point (or two or three) alternates between one Islamic doctrine and an opposite one or an outright contradiction (note the first two, for example).
Sam Shamoun concludes from his research:
This list of contradictions in the Quran and hadith concerning Christ should surprise no one. Muhammads information came from "revelations" or various, incomplete beliefs about Christianity circulating around the trade routes, or an unclear knowledge of the New Testament itself. Muhammad was not a scholar, so we should not imagine him poring over dusty papyri or other manuscripts, for hours. He learned scraps of ideas. Also, his later followers added to the confusion and contradictions in their reports about his words and deeds, collected afterwards, as they related traditions about Christ.
Mr. al-Buthi, your article on Muslims believing in an Islamic Jesus is based on the Quran. This means that the article has presuppositions that are not founded on the best source for the life of Christ: the New Testament. For my part, Ill stay with it. It is historically reliable, authentic, and closer to his life. I have never seen any solid reason to prefer the Quranic version of Jesus over the report of those who saw him and lived with him.
The Saudi friend adds:
Please continue with Part Seven.
Copyright by James Malcolm Arlandson and used by permission. Originally published at americanthinker.com, and later slightly edited for Answering Islam.