My Questions to Muslims

I wasn't sure how to title this one really.

are all equally valid headers for a problem I want to talk about here.

A statement from the soc.religion.islam newsgroup:

The HOLY QURAN *CLEARLY* permits believers to conceal their faith if practicing or declaring their Islam openly will be detrimental to the Islamic cause. (I.e. by concealing one's faith and escaping danger today, the Islamic movement will grow tomorrow, in which case, to not conceal one's faith would actually cause the Islamic movement to DIE.)

Let me present you two more quotes from the Islamic newsgroup written by two of the more respected Muslim participants there:

A Shia Muslim wrote:

Once you claim that Shias are permitted to lie, then obviously *nothing* said by a Shia can be trusted. Then, what use is it to search the books of Shias "and see ... for yourself" what Shia beliefs are? After all, they can always be lying! Right?

The fact is that Shias consider lying to be a grave sin. It is permissible only under very exceptional circumstances: only if one's life is put in danger. Throughout history, many rulers have tried to eradicate Shias by killing them off and other means. If it were not for religious dissimulation (taqiyya) Shias would not have survived. In some stages in history, it became a *duty* for Shias to conceal their beliefs, for otherwise they would be killed. However, at times when religious freedom prevails, it becomes a sin to lie about one's beliefs (or anything else).

A Sunni Muslim answered him:

To my understanding, this is also permitted in Sunni understanding of Islam. If saying you are "Muslim" or "Sunni" or whatever will put your life in danger, it is permissable to lie about it. I think many Sunni Muslims may not be aware of this because, since Sunnis are the majority in the Muslim world, perhaps persecution of Sunni Muslims has been less compared to historically persecution of Shi`a - I don't know, I am just guessing (regarding historical persecution). To my understanding, this issue came up when the Prophet (s) was still based in Mecca - before the Hijra - and the Meccan people where severely persecuting Muslims, even killing them if they found out someone was a Muslim.

In the contrary, I have a very different conviction and do agree with the following saying:


A God not worth dying for
is not worth living for.


You may also read "conviction" or "faith" instead of "God".

The following are some references taken from the Shia Encyclopedia, chapter 6b.


Reference 4:
-----------
It has been narrated by Abd al-Razak, Ibn Sa'd, Ibn Jarir, Ibn Abi Hatim,
Ibn Mardawayh, al-Bayhaqi in his book "al- Dala-il," and it was corrected
by al-Hakim in his book "al- Mustadrak" that:

     "The nonbelievers arrested `Ammar Ibn Yasir (RA) and (tortured him
     until) he (RA) uttered foul words about the Prophet (PBUH&HF), and
     praised their gods (idols); and when they released him (RA), he (RA)
     went straight to the Prophet (PBUH&HF).  The Prophet (PBUH&HF) said:
     "Is there something on your mind?"  `Ammar Ibn Yasir (RA) said: "Bad
     (news)! They would not release me until I defamed you (PBUH&HF) and
     praised their gods!"  The Prophet (PBUH&HF) said: "How do you find
     your heart to be?" `Ammar (RA) answered: "Comfortable with faith."  So
     the Prophet (PBUH&HF) said: "Then if they come back for you, then do
     the same thing all over again."  Allah (SWT) at that moment revealed
     the verse: "....except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in
     faith...[16:106]"

NOTE: The full verse that was quoted partially as part of the tradition
above, is: "Any one who, after accepting Faith in Allah, utters unbelief,
EXCEPT UNDER COMPULSION, his heart remaining firm in faith -- but such as
open their breast to unbelief, -- on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs
will be a dreadful Chastisement [16:106]." (Emphasis Mine)


Reference 6:
-----------
Another explanation of the above verse is provided by Jalal al-Din al-
Suyuti in his book, "al-Durr al-Manthoor Fi al- Tafsir al-Ma-athoor," vol.
2, p178; he says:

     "Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ibn Jarir, Ibn Munzir, and Ibn Abi Hatim narrated
     on the authority of Mujtahid (a man's name) that this verse was
     revealed in relation to the following event: A group of people from
     Mecca accepted Islam and professed their belief; as a result, the
     companions in Medina wrote to them requesting that they emigrate
     to Medina; for if they don't do so, they shall not be considered
     as those who are among the believers.  In compliance, the group left
     Mecca, but were soon ambushed by the nonbelievers (Quraish) before
     reaching their destination; they were coerced into disbelief, and they
     professed it.  As a result, the verse "...except under compulsion, his
     heart remaining firm in faith [16:106]..." was revealed."


Reference 7:
-----------
Ibn Sa'd in his book, "al-Tabaqat al-Kubra," narrates on the authority of
Ibn Sirin that:

     The Prophet (PBUH&HF) saw `Ammar Ibn Yasir (RA) crying, so he
     (PBUH&HF) wiped off his (RA) tears, and said: "The nonbelievers
     arrested you and immersed you in water until you said such and such
     (i.e., bad-mouthing the Prophet (PBUH&HF) and praising the pagan gods
     to escape persecution); if they come back, then say it again."


Reference 8:
-----------
It is narrated in al-Sirah al-Halabiyyah, v3, p61, that:

     After the conquest of the city of Khaybar by the Muslims, the Prophet
     (PBUH&HF) was approached by Hajaj Ibn `Aalat and told: "O Prophet of
     Allah: I have in Mecca some excess wealth and some relatives, and I
     would like to have them back; am I excused if I bad-mouth you (to
     escape persecution)?"  The Prophet (PBUH&HF) excused him and said:
     "Say whatever you have to say."

Even though I find it strange that the same verse could be revealed several times at different occasions [when something is already revealed, the next time one could at most be reminded again, but "to reveal" means it is unknown until this point of time] and the story in reference 4 and 7 looks sufficiently different from the one in reference 6, that it seems there are several conflicting events for the revelation of the same verse. Furthermore in reference 7, `Ammar Ibn Yasir seems to have a far more sensitive conscience than Muhammad, while in reference 5 he doesn't seem to be as distressed. There are numerous disparities between these stories. But this is only a side remark. They do agree in the permission of denying the faith. Not only in the case of danger for life but even in order to get some material possessions back as reference 8 indicates.

My real problem is in regard to the instruction itself. This permission to lie and deny God in order to save your life is clearly foreign to the message of God in the Holy Bible. The honor and glory of God is worth more than the little short life that we might still live on earth. When faced with denying God or death, it is absolutely clear which is the decision that honors God. According to the Biblical understanding, `Ammar Ibn Yasir had the healthy conscience in regard to the enormity of denying his Lord, yet Muhammad in effect gave him the consolation "it doesn't matter, you can even do it again if need be". Expediency is priority over honesty and loyalty to God. This is a clear breach of the first commandment to not acknowledge any other gods beside God. Observing this behavior, how can I accept Muhammad as a prophet from God to whom all glory and service is due and to whom my life belongs?

Let me give you some of many instances which illustrate the teaching of the Bible on this topic. It is illuminating to observe the contrast.

Daniel 3 (in excerpts, you may want to read the whole chapter):

(1) King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold,... (4) Then the herald loudly proclaimed, "This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: (5) As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. (6) Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace."... (8) At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews... (12) But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon--Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego--who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up." (13) Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, (14) and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? (15) Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?"

(16) Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. (17) If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. (18) But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

In this incident, God saves the three faithful believers, but that doesn't always happen, as the three themselves state. God can but is not under obligation to save his people from harm in this life. Not even from harm that comes on them in the course of faithfully proclaiming the truth.

But in this case, God acts and they are not harmed in the fire and the result is the faith of Nebuchadnezzar himself:

(28) Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. (29) Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way."

Such is the right action of the true believer when he faces persecution. This is one of many passages in the Old Testament. What about the Gospels?

Jesus says in Mark 8:

34   Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: 
     "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up 
     his cross and follow me.
35   For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses
     his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
36   What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit 
     his soul?
37   Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
38   If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and 
     sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he 
     comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

and Jesus also says in Matthew 10:

28   Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
     Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in
     hell.

And when the disciples of Jesus after the resurrection and ascension are threatened by the authorities to not speak about Jesus, they answer (Acts 5):

19   But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is 
     right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.
20   For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."
21   After further threats they let them go. 

But only a few days later (Acts 5):

27   Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the 
     Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.
28   "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. 
     "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are 
     determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
29   Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather 
     than men!
30   The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had 
     killed by hanging him on a tree.
31   God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that 
     he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.
32   We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, 
     whom God has given to those who obey him."
33   When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them 
     to death.

Reason prevails this time, and the disciples are "only" flogged and beaten and afterwards released, but the Apostles were ready to die for their confession of faith, and actually, though not at this very instant, 10 of the 11 Apostles eventually die as martyrs for their faith that "Jesus is Lord". And they would not even have to worship an idol to buy their freedom. It is the Jewish religious leaders who "only" demand them to keep quiet about Jesus.

In the Bible it is very clear that the honor and glory of God has supremacy over everything in a true believer's life.

It seems that in Islam the survival and well-being of Muslim is more important than the honor of God.

How can I desert a religion which teaches that the honor of God is supreme and join a religion that allows to hold my own survival to be of more value than the glory of God? This does not sound right to me. This is "too cheap" to be right.

One more observation: There seems to be some sort of reversal here. In Christianity, the believers are NOT allowed to kill others who might insult God or the prophets. We are called to testify even with the price of our own life to the truth of God, but if somebody mocks God or Jesus, it is not our job to punish him. God is the one who will judge and we are not allowed to usurp this position.

To condense it in on sentence: We may sacrifice our OWN life for God, we may never put and end to the life of an enemy of our religion just for religious reasons.

Many (though not all) Muslims seem to be just of the opposite opinion. Though they would justify that it is okay to rather deny God than die for him (see the above references on concealing the faith), they don't think it is wrong to kill somebody else if he acts hostile towards Allah or Muhammad. And "blaspheming the name of Muhammad" is worthy of the death sentence by the official state law of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and maybe more countries where Muslims are in the majority. The same holds for the death penalty of apostacy even if one does not openly propagate against Islam, and only privately converts.

I do not deny that Islam has had heroic martyrs. But it appears that those were better and more honorable in their actions and loyalty than Muhammad himself for whom the honor of God was seemingly not supreme. Those heros of faith have risen above the quality of their religion itself. The value and truth of the religion of Islam has to be judged by Qur'an and Hadith-Sunnah.

Let me present one more account in the Bible which speaks directly on this issue.

Reading the Gospel accounts we can extract the following information about the Apostle Peter, the leader and spokesman of the disciples of Jesus.

When Jesus tells the disciples that they will all fall away from him and deny him, Peter emphatically states that he will rather die with him than deny him. And sure enough, when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus, Peter draws his sword to defend him (ready to enter jihad! Peter is a good Muslim). But Jesus forbids him to use the sword, he is arrested, tried and condemned to death. Peter on the other hand, now "on his own", first flees the scene but later comes back to watch from a distance. Some people recognize him (among them a "slave girl") and ask if he isn't also one of this Jesus' disciples. When Peter is this way "discovered" by them he is so afraid (to also be arrested and probably killed) that he denies to even know Jesus. And he does so three times this night, i.e. he conceals his true identity as a follower of Jesus [taqiyyah].

According to the quotes I presented above, I have the impression that many a Muslim would call this a "smart move". After all, what use is it to also get arrested and maybe killed? Isn't it better to save your life now, hide your faith so that you can be of use later on, even if it means to deny Jesus, God's Messiah?

Jesus had told Peter before the event, that he would deny him three times before the rooster crows, and when Peter hears the rooster crow after his third denial, he remembers Jesus word's [and his own promises] and breaking down weeps bitterly.

Obviously, Peter was not of the impression that what he did was "commendable" or "smart".

Jesus forbids the jihad [which Peter would have entered in for him] and the taqiyyah he committed out of fear and to save his skin is clearly described as weakness and failure.

To summarize the issue:

Judging according to the instructions Muhammad has given, a Muslim does not need to care for the honor of God, our little miserable earthly life (which is going to end anyway in a few more years) is worth more than the confession of the most holy God and loyalty to the one whom he sent (according to your belief)?

Any true Christian knows this is shameful and is sin. It is treason to our Lord. Muslims seem to excuse it. That way, it is easy to not sin. But it doesn't induce much respect in me, to be very honest. The only religion worth believing is the religion where the honor of God is supreme.

All but one of the disciples of Jesus were martyred for their faith. Peter himself was crucified about 67 A.D. for confessing Jesus to be his Lord and for not worshiping the emperor. That is one reason why I do believe the testimony of the disciples. They authenticated their message with their life. That speaks of integrity to the uttermost degree. That has a much higher value in regard to authentication of their message than the memorization of the Qur'an by people who will abandon their faith when their life is in danger.

For the first 300 years thousands of Christians have paid for their faith with their life. Don't tell me they would tamper with the scriptures, invent their own stories and then die for what they know to be a lie. Certainly they made sure they have based their life on the truth before they died for the confession of Jesus as their Lord.


Copyright 1997 Jochen Katz. All rights reserved.

My Questions to Muslims: Table of contents
Answering Islam Home Page