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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Christians Cannot Recognize Muhammad as a Prophet

In a recent press conference, Ambassador Turki al-Faisal, who is also a Saudi Arabian prince, made the following observation:

"We [Muslims] revere from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David, Solomon, you name it, Jesus, Jonah, Jacob. All the prophets of the Old Testament and the New Testament, we consider them to be our prophet. And we also accept that the divine revelations to these prophets, the Torah and the—(inaudible)—are our books, along with the Koran. And our question to Christians and Jews is that why don’t you reciprocate and believe in our prophet as we believe in your prophets? Why don’t you accept our Koran as your book as we accept your Bible in its entirety, whether Old Testament or New Testament?"

The Prince deserves an answer.

As a diplomat, the prince knows that peoples of different cultures, religions, and outlooks often must deal with one another. The rhetorical questions at the end of his statement above suggest that a politic recognition of Muhammad as a prophet and the Qur'an as a "Third Testament" may possibly solve a multitude of problems between Christians and Muslims. His statement that Muslims "accept" the Old Testament prophets and Jesus, along with their books, has become a commonplace in the great swindle that passes for the teaching of history in American public schools, and doubtlessly seems reasonable to many of his hearers.

With all due respect, Your Highness, your proposal does not work.

Islam does NOT accept the Old and New Testaments in their entirety. They claim that the Jews and Christians corrupted the original Tawrat, Zubar, and Injil ; hence Muslims are not encouraged to read the Bible, and, indeed, may be punished for owning one in some Muslim countries. The Prince's own country bans the Bible's import.

The New Testament makes much of Christ's death as the atonement for our sins, understands Old Testament passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 as prophetic of the event, and understands the Old Testament sacrificial ritual described in the Torah as foreshadowing the Messiah's sacrifice. Yet the Qur'an categorically states that Jesus did not die on the cross. Further, the New Testament presents Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man in one person; the Qur'an says he was merely man. The Qur'an charges the Jews with making Ezra the son of God analogous to Jesus Christ in Christianity, but no Muslim has ever presented extra-Qur'anic corroboration of such a belief (I have discussed and argued theology and religion with many Jews, read something of Talmud and Midrash, and know of no Jewish tradition that deifies Ezra).

Further, Christians are not discouraged from reading the Old Testament. Quite the contrary, the prophets of Israel have long informed the way Christian thinkers view history; most instructed Christians are aware that Jesus' injunction to love God and neighbor come from Leviticus and Deuteronomy; the decalogue is taught in every catechism class; Christian worship is unthinkable without the Psalms; and Christian ethics draws heavily from the Pentateuch and Wisdom Literature. Christians do not dismiss the Old Testament as "falsified", but base the authority of the New Testament on that of the old, and bind the two together as one volume. Four-fifths of the Christian Bible is shared with the Jews, differing from the Jewish Tanakh chiefly in the order of the thirty-nine books.

Perhaps His Highness will pull off the mask and explain that the "original" Tawrat and Injil were corrupted, and that Islam honors the "original" ones rather than the extant ones. This is a commonplace of Islamic polemics. Yet I doubt that the Prince could come up with the "original Old and New Testaments"; nor could he explain how the Jews and Christians, who were always mutually suspicious and never cooperated, could come up with the same Old Testament that the other side recognized, while the competing Christian sects came up with the same New Testament. And as for the Jewish and Christian scribes being conniving, careless, corrupting, or some combination of the three, how could that be when both allowed witnesses against their own practices to remain in the Biblical text? The Rabbinical conservators of the Hebrew Old Testament did not change Abraham's serving both milk and meat to his mysterious visitors in Genesis 18, when it violated their own tradition; nor did theysmuggle into the biblical text the beloved tale of Abram arguing with Terah about idolatry in from the Genesis Rabbah. How could the hierarchical churches of East and West, which were long the stewards of the Greek New Testament, have allowed Philippians 1:1 to stand when it clearly mentions a plurality of bishops in one city? It seems that there is not a single Greek manuscript of the Pauline letters that "corrects" this by the clear tradition of the medieval churches. All this suggests to me that these ancient conservators of the text, both Jewish and Christian, were highly scrupulous in handling texts they saw as sacred rather than conniving and jealous of their own prerogatives and man-made traditions.

I will happily accept Muslim neighbors who wish to live in peace with me; and I'll be the first to call the police if I see a suspicious figure lurking around the mosque when I am feeling insomniac and take a late night stroll. But for some of the reasons listed above, I cannot recognize Islam as a continuance or inheritor of the biblical traditions.

Perhaps His Highness wants to say that he wants our respect for his religion; and I feel I can respect a belief that commands the allegiance of hundreds of millions, even if I disagree with it. But I cannot say I recognize the biblical Jesus Christ when I read the Qur'an. Further, reflection on the implications of the Messiah's coming, his being God in the flesh as well as the promised man of David's line, his eternally valid atonement for our sins, and his victory over death in the resurrection make it all but impossible for me to think that God has a later "word" to "correct" this.

And if Islam so respects Moses so much, how come it mandates the amputation of the thief's hand when Exodus 22 mandates that the thief pay restitution to the victim? Indeed, it is my understanding that the Prince's own country practices these hudd punishments and is proud of doing so.

Further, Christians believe that God became man and dwelt among us in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-18); that Christ obeyed the divine law on behalf of his people, offered himself as atonement for their sins, and rose to conquer death on their behalf on the third day. Paul, in First Corinthians 15, says that this is the essence of the Gospel, not some new set of rules. But with such a message, how can any Christian sanely believe that there is room for some new revelation of rules for the direction and postures to use in prayer, kinds of legitimate meat and drink, and the proper positioning to use when performing ablutions? No, it is not for nothing that the Risen and Glorified Jesus Christ warns us against adding to the biblical testimony or taking away from it at the end of Revelation, the last book of the Biblical canon. After Christ, Muhammad is frankly a let-down.

The Prince would have served us all better had he spoken of the need to accurately understand each others' beliefs and practices, and to examine our sources and evidence more thoughtfully. To say that an informed Christian can somehow accept Muhammad as a later prophet, however, demands a deep ignorance of both Bible and Qur'an.

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