Has Islam Misunderstood Christianity?
A Christian Response to Bassam Zawadi’s Debate
With Dr. James R. White Pt. 2
We continue our analysis of the Bassam Zawadi versus Dr. James White debate concerning the issue of whether the Quran misrepresents the historic Christian faith in regard to the doctrines of the Trinity and Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the debate, Zawadi made the following assertion:
Dr. White asks where does the Quran talk about me? It’s pretty clear for anyone who’s read the Quran that Islam states that Allah is one person. Islam states that Christians over-praise Jesus. Islam states that Jesus was created just like how Adam was created from dust. Islam states that Allah could destroy Jesus if he wanted to. None of that is speaking to Dr. White?
Zawadi also had this to say in regard to Allah supposedly being a single person:
He’s saying well the Quran said well since Allah said Allah is one God then that means its accusing the Christians of saying that they believe in three god’s. But you know I’ve already dealt with this in my opening statements; I still did not get a response. The Quran could possibly be speaking by appealing to de facto reality. According to it, since God is one person, by default if you say another person is God that is a violation of God’s monotheism. It doesn’t mean that it has misunderstood your faith. It’s speaking of the assumption of Unitarianism. I’m not here to prove that Unitarianism is true, and the necessary conclusion comes about if Unitarianism is true then Trinitarians are polytheists; that is the necessary conclusion. Now we’re not here to discuss whether that’s true or not. But that doesn’t mean that Islam has misunderstood Christianity.
Unfortunately for Zawadi, the Quran is anything but clear (despite claiming to be), especially when it comes to the nature of Allah and the issue of Jesus’ relationship with God.
In the first place, even though it may be the case that Zawadi’s version of Islam teaches that Allah is one person, the Quran, however, NOWHERE teaches such a thing. This assertion, which Zawadi reads back into the Quran, is based on later theological assumptions and formulations that essentially have nothing to do with the beliefs of the original author(s) and/or editor(s) of the Muslim scripture.
Any fair and accurate reading of the Quran will quickly reveal (pun intended) that there are a number of divine beings, like the spirit of Allah for instance. The Muslim scripture depicts Allah’s spirit as a rational, speaking agent that can assume human form and who is capable of carrying out divine functions, such as creating and giving life (cf. Q. 15:29; 19:16-21; 21:91; 66:12).
Moreover, Zawadi’s assertions become even more ironic when we realize that his own particular Islamic sect doesn’t really believe that Allah is a singular person. Now he may argue that it does, but the facts, however, are clearly against him.
After all, both Zawadi’s salafi cult, and Sunni Islam in general, teach that the Quran is the uncreated word or speech of Allah. At the same time, these Muslims would affirm that the Quran is not identical to Allah, but distinct from him.
Now this means that either Allah is a multi-personal being consisting of himself, his spirit, and his eternal speech which became a book. Or Zawadi must contend with the fact that it is his own religious sources which posit three separate, distinct gods. If so then he needs to be rebuked since he is commanded by his own religious text, “not to say three! Desist! It is better for you since your god is one god” (cf. Q. 4:171).
This actually leads me to my second point. It is true that the Quran makes statements concerning Christ which say that he is nothing more than a messenger or an apostle whom Allah could destroy if he so desired (cf. Q. 5:17; 43:59). The problem, however, is that the Muslim scripture goes on to contradict itself since it ascribes to Jesus certain characteristics and functions which clearly show that he is more than a human being. The titles and abilities that are attributed to Christ actually prove that he is fully divine.
For example, Jesus is said to be the Word of Allah sent to Mary and a Spirit that came forth from Allah himself:
O People of the Book! Go not beyond the limits in your way of life and say not about God but The Truth: That the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was a Messenger of God (rasoolu Allahi) and His Word that He CAST TO Mary (wa’kalimatuhu al-qaha ila Maryama) and a Spirit from Him (wa’roohun minhu). So believe in God and His Messengers. And say not: Three. To refrain yourselves from it is better for you. There is only One God. Glory be to Him that He have a son! To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in and on the earth and God sufficed as a Trustee. S. 4:171 Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar
Here are a couple of more translations:
“… Without doubt Al-Maseeh, Iesa, Ibn-e-Maryam is Rasulullah (Messenger of Allah) and His Kalimah, which He bestowed on Maryam and a Ruh (Spirit) proceeding from Him…” Dr. Kamal Omar
“…The fact is simple that the Messiah, ´Isa son of Maryam (Jesus son of Mary), is Allah´s Messenger and His Word which He conveyed to Maryam (Mary) and a Spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His Messengers and do not say: ´There are three (Gods).´…” Tahir-ul-Qadri Mohammad
There is absolutely nothing in any of these statements which a Christian would object to since the Holy Bible calls Jesus God’s Apostle or Messenger:
“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;” Hebrews 3:1
Identifies him as the preexistent Word of God that became flesh:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and nothing came into being without him that has come into being. In him was Life, and the Life was the light of men… The true Light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-4, 9-10, 14 – cf. 1 John 1:1-3
“He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” Revelation 19:13
And refers to him as a life-giving Spirit who was sent forth from God:
“So it is written: The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.”1 Corinthians 15:45
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,” Galatians 4:4
“Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came forth from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.’” John 8:42
Interestingly, the Muslim scripture actually agrees with this last point since it speaks of Jesus possessing the breath of life by which he is able to animate non-living objects in exactly the same way which Allah does!
“to be a Messenger to the Children of Israel saying, "I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I will create for you out of clay as the likeness of a bird; then I will breathe into it, and it will be a bird, by the leave of God. I will also heal the blind and the leper, and bring to life the dead, by the leave of God. I will inform you too of what things you eat, and what you treasure up in your houses. Surely in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.’” S. 3:49
“When God said, 'Jesus Son of Mary, remember My blessing upon thee and upon thy mother, when I confirmed thee with the Holy Spirit, to speak to men in the cradle, and of age; and when I taught thee the Book, the Wisdom, the Torah, the Gospel; and when thou createst out of clay, by My leave, as the likeness of a bird, and thou breathest into it, and it is a bird, by My leave; and thou healest the blind and the leper by My leave, and thou bringest the dead forth by My leave; and when restrained from thee the Children of Israel when thou camest unto them with the clear signs, and the unbelievers among them said, "This is nothing but sorcery manifest.’" S. 5:110
Now compare this with the way in which Allah created Adam:
And when thy Lord said to the angels, 'See, I am creating a mortal of a clay of mud moulded. When I have shaped him, and breathed My spirit in him, fall you down, bowing before him!' S. 15:28-29
This, too, is echoed in the Holy Bible:
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” John 20:21
Thus, the Quran concurs with God’s revealed Word that Christ is indeed a life-giving Spirit!
The Holy Bible also affirms that God is one, not three:
“Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” Romans 3:29-30 – cf. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Galatians 3:20, 4:8; 1 Timothy 1:17; 2:5
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” James 2:19 – cf. Mark 12:29-30, 32; John 5:44, 17:3; 1 John 5:20-21; Jude 1:25
To top it off, the inspired Scriptures even agree with the following Quranic text,
The Messiah would not be too proud to be a servant to God, nor would the angels who are close to Him. Whoever is too proud from His service, and is arrogant, then He will summon them all before Him. S. 4:172 Quran: A Reformist Translation (QRT)
Since it emphatically teaches that Christ voluntarily humbled himself by taking on the status of a servant:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be exploited, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11
Shockingly, the Quran even goes as far as to agree with the blessed Apostle Paul concerning God having highly exalted Jesus, since it plainly states that Christ was raised to be with Allah himself in order to live in the same place or state that the Muslim god happens to dwell!
Lo! God said: "O Jesus! Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee UNTO ME, and cleanse thee of [the presence of] those who are bent on denying the truth; and I shall place those who follow thee [far] above those who are bent on denying the truth, unto the Day of Resurrection. In the end, unto Me you all must return, and I shall judge between you with regard to all on which you were wont to differ.” S. 3:55 Muhammad Asad
Instead, God raised him TO HIMSELF; and God is Noble, Wise. S. 4:158 QRT
Therefore, how do such statements speak to the beliefs of conservative Christians like Dr. White concerning the Person of Jesus when historic Christianity affirms all of these facts?
Moreover, scholars have long noted that the orthodox Islamic view of the Quran’s relationship to Allah is virtually identical to what Christians believe about Jesus’ identity as the eternal Word or Logos. In fact, the following Muslim scholar claims that the Islamic view was even influenced by the Christian understanding of Jesus as God’s Word:
“The problem of the nature of Christ, so central in the dogmatic development of the early church, has also influenced, in a certain way, the development of Islamic dogma. Christ's designation as logos, as the Word of God, ‘born not created,’ has most probably influenced Islamic theories about the Koran, which is regarded by the Muslim as the uncreated Word of God. Phenomenologically seen, the Koran has the same position in Islamic dogmatics as has Christ in Christianity. Harry A. Wolfson therefore coined the term ‘inlibration,’ the ‘Word become Book,’ in contrast to the Christian concept of incarnation, ‘the Word became Flesh.’ That explains why theologians emphasized the designation ummi for Muhammad; this term, first probably meaning "the prophet sent to the gentiles" was interpreted as "illiterate." The Prophet had to be a vessel unstained by external knowledge for the Word's inlibration, just as Mary had to be a virgin in order to be a pure vessel for the Word's incarnation. That is, the Koran is much more than simply a book…” (Annemarie Schimmel, Islam - An Introduction [State University of New York Press, Albany 1992], pp. 74-75; bold emphasis ours)
Another scholar, Mahmoud M. Ayoub, in speaking of Muhammad's relation to the Quran, had this to say:
“… that the words that Muhammad conveyed to his people were not his own, but were revealed to him by God. It is also understood to mean that his mind was not contaminated by human wisdom. Rather it was a pure receptacle for the divine word in the same way that Mary's virginity means for Christians that her body was a pure vessel fit to receive Christ, the Word of God.
“In fact, there is an interesting parallel between Christ and the Qur'an. Christ is, for Christians, the incarnate Word of God. While the Qur'an is, like Christ, the eternal divine word, it does not play a role in the creation of the world. It is the eternal word of God preserved for moral and spiritual guidance. It is an eternal book: ‘This surely is a glorious Qur'an, preserved in a well-guarded Tablet’ (Q. 85:21-22).” (Ayoub, Islam: Faith and History [Oneworld Publications, Oxford England, 2004], p. 41; bold emphasis ours)
And here is what John L. Esposito, professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, wrote concerning the early Muslim controversies surrounding the nature of the Quran:
“The Mutazila took issue with the majority of ulama over the doctrines of the divine attributes or names of God and the eternal, uncreated nature of the Quran. Both beliefs were seen as contradictory and as compromising God's unity (Islam's absolute monotheism). How could the one, transcendent God have many divine attributes (sight, hearing, power, knowledge, will)? The Mutazila maintained that the Quranic passages that affirmed God's attributes were meant to be understood metaphorically or allegorically, not literally. Not to do so was to fall into anthropomorphism, or worse, shirk, associationism or polytheism. Similarly, the Islamic doctrine that the Quran is the speech or word of God should not be taken literally, for how could both God and His word be eternal and uncreated? The result would be two divinities. The Mutazila interpreted metaphorically those Quranic texts that spoke of the Quran preexisting in heaven. Contrary to majority opinion, they taught that the Quran is the created word of God, who is its uncreated source. The Mutazila critique of those like Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who believed in the eternity of the Quran, was ably summarized by Caliph Mamun in a letter to his governor:
“Everything apart from Him is a creature from His creation - a new thing which He has brought into existence. [This perverted opinion they hold] though the Koran speaks clearly of God's creating all things, and proves to the exclusion of all differences of opinion. They are, thus, like the Christians when they claim that Isa bin Maryam [Jesus, the son of Mary] was not created because he was the word of God. But God says, ‘Verily We have made it a Koran in the Arabic language,’ and the explanation of that is, ‘Verily, We have created it," just as the Koran says, "And He made from it His mate that he might dwell with her.’” (Esposito, Islam The Straight Path [Oxford University Press, New York Oxford: Hard cover, third edition], pp. 71-72; bold emphasis ours)
Now this places Zawadi in a major dilemma, as my series of questions will show.
If the Quran is eternal because it is the word of Allah, then wouldn’t the same logic necessarily apply to Jesus as well? After all, the Muslim scripture itself, in complete agreement with God’s inspired revelation, the Holy Bible, calls Jesus God’s Word.
In light of this, can Allah destroy the Quran? By Quran we do not mean the pages that it is written on, but to its very essence as Allah’s uncreated speech.
If the answer is yes then does this mean that Allah can destroy the rest of his attributes as well?
If yes then does this mean that these attributes are not essential, but are simply add-ons that Allah later acquired?
If the answer is no, that Allah cannot destroy the Quran since it is his eternal speech or word, then how can the Islamic scripture say that Allah can destroy Jesus without this being a contradiction?
After all, to destroy Jesus who is the Word of God basically means that Allah is destroying one of his essential attributes.
Yet since Allah cannot destroy his speech or word doesn’t this therefore prove that Jesus is indestructible according to the Quran?
If so then isn’t it obvious that we have another case of a clear-cut contradiction in a book which claims to be free of all discrepancies and errors (cf. Q. 4:82; 18:1; 39:28)?
Zawadi may retort by bringing up the same feeble response, which he and his cohorts often raise, that the Islamic scripture is not identifying Jesus as the eternal Word of Allah. Rather, by calling him the Word, the Quran is merely saying that Jesus was made by the creative command or word of Allah.
As we have noted in some of our previous rebuttals, there are several problems with this rather desperate reply.
First, if this were the meaning of the phrase then we would expect that Adam would also be given this title since the Quran is quite clear that he was created by Allah’s word:
Verily, in the sight of God, the nature of Jesus is as the nature of Adam, whom He created out of dust and then said unto him, "Be" - and he is. S. 3:59 Asad
And yet Adam is never said to be the word of Allah.
Second, the Quran makes the repeated assertion that it is a fully detailed book which thoroughly explains all of its verses:
It is He Who has set the stars for you, so that you may guide your course with their help through the darkness of the land and the sea. We have (indeed) explained IN DETAIL Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, Revelations, etc.) for people who know. It is He Who has created you from a single person (Adam), and has given you a place of residing (on the earth or in your mother's wombs) and a place of storage [in the earth (in your graves) or in your father's loins]. Indeed, We have EXPLAINED IN DETAIL Our revelations (this Qur'an) for people who understand. S. 6:97-98 Hilali-Khan
Alif Lam Ra. A Book whose verses ARE SET CLEAR, and then distinguished, from One All-wise, All-aware: S. 11:1 Arberry
A scripture whose verses PROVIDE THE COMPLETE DETAILS, in an Arabic Quran, for people who know. S. 41:3 Khalifa
By the manifest Book (this Qur'an) THAT MAKES THINGS CLEAR, S. 44:2 Hilali-Khan
This means that the Quran should have explained the meaning and significance of Jesus being called the Word of Allah. At the very least, the Muslim scripture should have come out and stated that the reason Jesus is called such is because Allah brought him into being by his creative word. Yet, sadly for Zawadi, the Quran didn’t bother to fully explain the meaning of these texts. Neither should he.
This leads me to my third objection. According to the Muslim expositors, a Christian delegation from Najran actually used the very titles, which Muhammad ascribed to Jesus, to refute (quite successfully we might add) his assertion that Jesus wasn’t God. This resulted in Muhammad having to go into damage control by composing a text, which asserted that some of the Quranic verses are ambiguous, and therefore shouldn’t be used to establish one’s position or theology:
“It is He who sent down upon thee the Book, wherein are verses clear that are the Essence of the Book, and others ambiguous. As for those in whose hearts is swerving, they follow the ambiguous part, desiring dissension, and desiring its interpretation; and none knows its interpretation, save only God. And those firmly rooted in knowledge say, 'We believe in it; all is from our Lord'; yet none remembers, but men possessed of minds. S. 3:7 Arberry
Muhammad conveniently placed those passages which speak of Jesus being God’s Word and Spirit under the ambiguous, unclear category!
In the words of noted medieval Muslim scholar and commentator Ibn Kathir:
“Surah Al `Imran was revealed in Al-Madinah, as evident by the fact that the first eighty-three Ayat in it relate to the delegation from Najran that arrived in Al-Madinah on the ninth year of Hijrah (632 CE)…” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 3:1; bold emphasis ours)
(they follow that which is not entirely clear thereof) meaning, they refer to the Mutashabih, because they are able to alter its meanings to conform with their false interpretation since the wordings of the Mutashabihat encompass such a wide area of meanings. As for the Muhkam Ayat, they cannot be altered because they are clear and, thus, constitute unequivocal proof against the misguided people. This is why Allah said…
(seeking Al-Fitnah) meaning, they seek to misguide their following by pretending to prove their innovation by relying on the Qur'an -- the Mutashabih of it -- but, this is proof against and not for them. For instance, Christians might claim that `Isa is divine because the Qur'an states that he is Ruhullah and His Word, which He gave to Mary, all the while ignoring Allah's statements…
(He) `Isa (was not more than a servant. We granted Our favor to him.) 43:59 (and…
(Verily, the likeness of `Isa before Allah is the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then (He) said to him: "Be!'' and he was.) 3:59
There are other Ayat that clearly assert that `Isa is but one of Allah's creatures and that he is the servant and Messenger of Allah, among other Messengers. (Ibid, Q. 3:7; bold emphasis ours)
However, as Christians who know their Scriptures can attest, there is nothing unclear or ambiguous about Jesus being the Word of God and a Spirit which proceeded forth from him.
Muhammad’s reply makes it obvious that this was another occasion where he parroted what he had heard from Christians concerning Jesus and decided to make it part of his scripture and theology without understanding the implications of doing so. Muhammad obviously didn’t realize that by including such details he ended up contradicting his assertion that Jesus is nothing more than an Apostle, and put a weapon in the hands of the Christians to successfully use against him!
Zawadi is now faced with a problem since the explanation which Muhammad gave is not the one which he and his fellow dawagandists present. Muhammad didn’t say that Jesus is Allah’s Word solely because he was created by Allah’s command. Rather, his response was that its meaning is ambiguous and unclear, and therefore known only to Allah. Hence, Zawadi and his cohorts need to stop speaking about matters which even their own prophet was silent about.
As it stands, the verses and narrations which Zawadi appealed to in his debate do not adequately speak to Christians such as Dr. White. Instead, the Muslim scripture presents a contradictory portrait of Christ, showing that the author(s) and/or editor(s) were truly confused regarding this matter. In one sense the Quran seeks to deny that Jesus is more than a human being, but it then goes ahead and applies titles to the risen Lord which end up affirming the historic, orthodox understanding of the Person and work of Christ!
So much for the Quran being a perspicuous scripture that is free of all errors and contradictions!
Lord willing, we will have more to say concerning Zawadi’s assertions in the other parts of our rebuttal which should be appearing soon.
In the meantime please do read our addendum.
For more on these subjects we recommend the following articles and rebuttals: