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Discussion between a Muslim and a Non- Muslim
Author/Source:   Posted by: Jan Muhammad
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Dialogue: Chirri Muhammad and Wilson Guertin.

Part I

Freedom of Discussion in Islam


Wilson: Some religions discourage the questioning attitude in regard to the soundness of their teachings. They advise their followers to follow their instructions without examination. They demand faith and prohibit acquaintance with any other faith because it may lead to doubt. What is the attitude of Islam towards questioning its teaching and comparing its principles with those of other faiths?

Chirri: Islam is very liberal in this matter. It may demand from a person to believe in certain principles but, at the same time, it advises him to try to base his belief on evidence. It sets him free to raise any question and does not condemn him when he doubts, if his doubt is followed by an intensive effort to find the truth. If any other religion advises him to avoid discussing principles other than its own and makes him fear provoking the anger of God by doing so, Islam makes one feel secure from God's anger if he pursues his search for the truth.
As a matter of fact, Islam never advises one to avoid discussion that may lead to a new knowledge and a new discovery of a truth. Be not afraid, Islam advises, to discuss any religious principle, whether it is Islamic or non-Islamic. Never worry or fear God's anger because He is the God of truth, He never condemns a person for seeking truth. On the contrary, the more one seeks the truth and conducts intensive research, the more he deserves the Divine reward from the Islamic point of view.
The most rewarding and meritorious attitude, in the eyes of Islam, is to approach religious issues with the spirit of a scientist who welcomes any evidence that may prove or disprove his theory (or a theory to which he may subscribe).

Wilson: Does Islam have any specific rule or advice concerning religious research?

Chirri: There are certain rules contained in the Holy Qur'an to be followed in religious research for the safety of any conclusion that may be reached.
  
1. Never embrace a doctrine when evidence stands against it, nor should one follow a principle without evidence.
If God wants a person to believe in a principle, He should make it clear and evident. He is the Most Fair and Just. He knows that belief is not a voluntary thing; that is, it is not up to the individual. A person is not able to believe or disbelieve anything he chooses. The human body is at one's command but not the mind. I can obey a command that tells me to move my hand up or down, to walk or sit, even if such a command does not seem to be wise. But I am not able to obey a command, for example, that tells me to believe that two and two are five, or that three are one, or that fire is cold, or that snow is hot.
 
Our human knowledge comes from direct or indirect evidence, and it does not follow our own whim and will. An acceptable religious belief must be based on knowledge. When God wants me to know something, He should make such a knowledge possible by making its evidence available. Should He demand from me to believe something while evidence is standing against it, He would be asking me to do the impossible. This contradicts His justice.
 
Islam never condemns an individual when he does not believe in a principle because of lack of evidence; on the contrary, Islam blames a person when he follows a principle while groping in the dark without illuminating evidence, or when such a principle is not in accordance with the truth.
 
Following a principle against evidence, or with lack of evidence, is like a judgement of a court against a defendant without any evidence. Such an attitude is not to be praised. From the Holy Qur'an:

"And follow not that of which thou hast no knowledge. Surely the hearing and sight and the heart, all of these will be asked about it." 17:36

2. Never accept popularity at face value. A religious researcher should not take the popularity of a religious doctrine in his society as an evidence of its truth. Many popular ideas have been proved wrong. At one time, it was believed that the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around the earth. People believed this for thousands of years, but now we know that neither of these ideas is true.
 
Furthermore, what is popular in one society may be unpopular in another. The opposite is also true. If popularity is a sign of soundness, all those popular ideas which contradict each other would be true, but truth never contradicts itself.
 
When the first prophet came to proclaim the concept of one God, his message was not popular in any society because the people of the world were either pagans or non-believers. The unpopularity of such a Divine message did not prevent that message from being true. As a matter of fact, all the prophets came to their societies with unpopular messages. Their aim was to correct the popular wrong and replace it with the unpopular truth. From the Qur'an:

"And if thou obey most of the inhabitants of the earth, they will mislead thee far from the way of God: They follow naught but an opinion, and they do but guess." 6:116

3. Inherited religious principles should be examined. Islam advises every adult to examine the religion which he inherited. Inherited religion, like any other religion, is subject to proof.
 
One may rely on the judgement of his parents as long as he is a child and not capable of making his own decisions. When he becomes an adult, his religion becomes his own responsibility. Respect and honor towards parents is one of the Islamic commandments, but that does not mean accepting their opinions in important matters such as religion when their opinion is wrong.
 
As a matter of fact, when parents adhere to a wrong religious principle and demand from their children to follow them, they should not be obeyed because such action would be contrary to the will of God; that is, if a person obeys his parents when they are wrong, he disobeys God. From the Holy Qur'an:

"And we have enjoined on man concerning parents.... saying: 'Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. To Me is the eventual coming. And if they strive with thee to make thee associate with Me that of which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not, and keep kindly company with them in this world. ' " 31:14-15

Islam commands the individual to examine its own teaching as well as any other teaching. By doing so, one may be able to value Islam more than ever before.
 
4. Doubters are not excused. When a person is not committed to any religion and doubts the whole religious concept, he should not be satisfied with his doubt. It is his duty to protect himself and his vital interests in this world from any harm and damage. Similarly, he has the same responsibility and duty in protecting his spiritual interest from being damaged. His serious inquiry about what may have a bearing on his spiritual life is as important as his inquiry about what may have a bearing on his physical life. In order for a person to carry out his responsibility and to fulfill his obligation, it is necessary for him to inquire, and inquire seriously, about his religious doubts. There may be many accessible facts in the doubted area; therefore, he has to try to find them. When he conducts his research and exhausts all his means and fails to find the truth, he would be excused in the eyes of God. God asks the individual only to do what is possible for him to do. From the Qur'an:

"God does not impose on a soul a duty but to the extent of its ability." 2:286

5. When you conduct a religious research, let no one make decisions for you. Do not rely on the judgement of any other person, even if he is sincere and highly intellectual.
 
There are sincere and intellectual teachers in every faith. If a person allows them to make religious decisions for him, he will be lost because these teachers will undoubtedly contradict each other. If he relies on the judgement of teachers of only one faith, disregarding the teachers of other faiths, he will be biased. A sincere and highly intellectual teacher can be wrong, and one is not excused if he follows the judgement of this teacher. One's religion is his responsibility and after he makes his extensive inquiry, he is the sole judge to reach conclusions and form opinions. From the Qur'an:

"And no bearer will bear other's burden .... " 35:18 53:38

Thus, we can see from these five Qur'anic verses that Islam is not afraid of being questioned or analyzed. Only those who fear failure forbid free discussion of their religious principles and avoid examination by researchers.

Definition of Islam

Wilson: One of the important things in any discussion is to define the subject. As we shall proceed to discuss Islam, I would like to hear a definition of the meaning of the word "Islam" because it is an Arabic word. I have heard more than one definition of this word; so I would like to hear yours. "Muslim" is another Arabic word which ought to be defined for the benefit of the non-Arabs who may read it very often without understanding its full meaning, or may confuse it with the word Islam.
 
Chirri: The original meaning of "Islam" is the acceptance of a view or a condition which previously was not accepted. In the language of the Holy Qur'an, Islam means the readiness of a person to take orders from God and to follow them. "Muslim" is a word taken from the word Islam. It applies to the person who is ready to take orders from God and follow them.

"Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian, but he was an upright (man), a Muslim; and he was not one of the Polytheists." 3:67

The two words, however, acquired specific meanings after the introduction of the message which was conveyed by the Prophet Mohammad. The message which was revealed to Mohammad is called Islam, and to profess the belief in his message is also Islam. Muslim, also, has come to mean the person who follows the message of Mohammad and believes in its truthfulness.
 
Wilson: What is the relation between the original meaning of Islam and the specific meaning which the word acquired after the advent of Mohammad?
 
Chirri: The new meaning of the word is closely related to the original one because Mohammad stated that his teachings contain the teachings of all the previous prophets and all the Divine commandments. When a person professes the belief in the truthfulness of Mohammad and pledges to follow his message, he, in fact, will be stating his readiness to obey the orders of God unconditionally.
 
Wilson: There are certain procedures prescribed, for example, by Christianity for a person who likes to join the Christian faith. Baptism is one of the sacraments which, according to most of the Christian denominations, a new convert has to have in order to become a Christian. Are there any prescribed procedures to be followed by a person who likes to join the faith of Islam?
 
Chirri: No sacraments or procedures are prescribed for a person who likes to join the faith of Islam. One needs only to pronounce or to believe in the contents of the Declaration of the Faith:

"I bear witness that there is no God but the Almighty God and that Mohammad is a messenger of God."

Wilson: Why is such a pronouncement sufficient for the admission of a person into the faith of Islam?
 
Chirri: When a person states that he believes in the truthfulness of Mohammad, he actually states that he believes in all what Mohammad introduced and in all his teachings. This includes all the Qur'anic teachings, all the deeds and all the sayings of Mohammad, whether in the matter of belief or in the area of practice.
 
When a person believes in the contents of the Declaration of the Faith, he automatically becomes a Muslim. His pronouncement of the Declaration is a proof to the other Muslims that he is a believer in Islam. Because of this, no Muslim can deny him the admission into the faith because he is a believer in Islam and needs nothing more beyond it.
  
Wilson: Is a new convert considered equal to a person who was born a Muslim?
 
Chirri: A Muslim convert is equal to any other Muslim in the eyes of the Holy Qur'an. Furthermore, a convert has more advantages than a born Muslim for two reasons:
 
A convert deserves a bigger reward from God than a born Muslim. A convert becomes a Muslim usually after a great deal of research and some psychological crisis, because changing religion is not an easy task. It takes a great deal of courage and effort on the part of the convert, while a born Muslim receives his religion by inheritance.
 
A convert is considered, by his conversion to Islam, pure and free of any previous sin. All his previous sins are wiped out entirely. He will be responsible only for the sins which he commits after becoming a Muslim. Thus, if a person becomes a Muslim in the early morning, after sunrise, then he dies before noon, he is entitled to enter paradise without having practiced or performed any of the devotional duties which a Muslim is required to do. He did not have to perform morning prayer because his conversion to Islam took place after sunrise, nor did he have to perform the noon prayer because he did not live until noon, the prayer time.
 
Wilson: Sometimes I find that Islam is called "Deen-Al-Touhid" and sometimes "Deen-Al-Fitrah." Since the two names are Arabic, they should be defined for the benefit of the non-Arabs. The reasons for which Islam has these names should also be made clear.
 
Chirri: "Deen-Al-Touhid" means the religion of the belief in the Oneness of God, and "Deen-Al-Fitrah" means the religion of the nature or the religion which is in accordance with human nature.
 
Islam is called the religion of One God because its main theme is the unity of God. The doctrine of One God is the most emphasized and repeated principle in the Holy Qur'an. When Islam was introduced to the world, people were mostly idol-worshippers. Some religions preached the Oneness of God but in an unclear form. Some of them ascribed to God an anthropomorphic image. The most important point of the contents of the new heavenly message was to correct the idol-worshippers and to remove whatever clouded the concept of One God.
 
Islam is called the religion of nature because its teaching is acceptable to the human mind when the human mind is freed from illogical thinking and superstition.
 
The Prophet Mohammad said:

"Every human being is born in a state of pure nature; but through the influence of his parents, he may become non-Muslim"

When a person is freed from illogical thinking, he can easily, just by looking at the order of the universe, conclude that the universe has only One Creator. It is easy to accept a teaching that calls upon us to believe that the over-four-billion-year-old universe had been created by an Infinitely Old Creator. But it is neither simple nor easy to identify that Creator with a mortal whose birth took place four billion years after the creation of the universe.
  
It is natural to accept a teaching that calls upon us to believe that the Creator of the universe is Absolutely Fair, Just, and Merciful, and that such a Just and Merciful Creator does not burden any soul with the sin of another; and that He does not require any person to pay for the sins of others.
 
The teaching of Islam seems to be acceptable to the human mind, unless the human mind has been exposed to illogical teaching. This is the reason why Islam is called the religion of nature.

Why Is Islam Popular?

Wilson: History indicates that Islam spread in its early times through Asia, Africa, and Europe very rapidly. Probably no other religion spread throughout the world as fast as Islam did. There must be some distinguishing features in Islam that caused its rapid growth and made it so phenomenal. I would like to know those factors which contributed to its rapid growth.
 
Chirri: There are many factors which contributed, and are still contributing, to the spread of Islam. Among them are the following factors:
 
1. THE HOLY QUR'AN
It is an undeniable fact that the Qur'an is a living book that has influenced millions of people through its beauty and style. The superiority of the Qur'anic discourse was, and still is, challenging. The Qur'an itself called upon its opponents to try to produce a discourse that measures up to it.
 
The Qur'an repeatedly states that if the opponents will produce at any time a comparable discourse, they will automatically disprove the whole faith of Islam. The Qur'an has remained standing above and beyond any comparison in the whole Arabic literature ever since its revelation in the 7th century The Holy Qur'an, therefore, has remained since the time of its introduction until now a great source of attraction for the Islamic faith.
 
2. THE PERSONALITY OF THE PROPHET OF ISLAM
Mohammad was born under the shining light of history. No cloud has shrouded his birth, his existence or his life among his people. If any other prophet is considered a part of the religious history, Mohammad is a part of both the religious and the world history.
 
Mohammad was born in Mecca from a well-known father and mother and lived with his people forty years before he was commissioned as a prophet of God. He was observed by the people during his childhood and manhood. He was noticed by all his associates as an example of honesty and integrity. People never found in him a fault. They called him the Truthful, the Trustworthy.
 
Mohammad did not live as an isolated person. On the contrary, he associated with the people constantly. As a businessman, Mohammad travelled and associated with people from all walks of life, but he was never affected by their low desires or worldly ambitions. He lived in a pagan society, dominated by idol-worshippers, but he never subscribed to their ideas, nor did he join them in their faith. He lived in that world as a world to himself. He was respected by his enemies and admired by his friends, and no prophet in history received as much as Mohammad did of spontaneous obedience from his companions.
 
3. THE STRONG FAITH OF THE EARLY MUSLIMS
Due to the complete honesty and the influence of the appealing personality of Mohammad, the faith of his companions in him was unusually strong. It was based on their first-hand acquaintance with his exemplary life.
We are told that the followers of Moses refused to enter Jerusalem when commanded to do so and told him that he and his Lord should go to fight the enemies. We are told that the multitudes who had gathered around Jesus deserted him when the crisis came. Even his disciples deserted him. His chief disciple denied him three times before dawn on that fateful night. Similar situations happened to most of the prophets. None of them enjoyed a true support from their followers when they encountered a crisis.
 
The companions of Mohammad, however, were different. When Mohammad was in Mecca, he and the hundreds of his followers were powerless and without any legal protection. All of them stood the test of the crisis, and none of them abandoned the faith or the Prophet. The actions of those Muslims proved their faith in Islam and the Prophet. All of them preached Islam and practiced what they preached, and every genuine Muslim gave his faith a genuine support in word and in deed.
 
4. THE PRINCIPLES OF ISLAM WERE A GREAT SOURCE OF ATTRACTION BECAUSE THEY WERE, AND ARE, LOGICAL AND CLEAR
Upon serious thought, one can easily accept a religious teaching which declares the following: There is no God but the Almighty Who created the whole universe; none is worthy of worship but He; He is the Lord alone, without partner, associate, or son; He did not beget nor was He begotten, and nothing is like Him; He is the Just, the Merciful, and the Powerful, neither anthropomorphic nor physical; and His power encompasses the whole universe.
Such a simple and uncompromising monotheism is readily acceptable to the human mind which seeks an explanation to the existence of the world. It does not confuse the human mind by stating that God is One and that He, at the same time, is more than one. Nor does it represent God as a human being born out of another human being.
 
5. THE PRINCIPLES OF ISLAM ARE CONSISTENT AND COHESIVE
They do not contradict each other, nor do they contradict any other established truth. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all advocate the justice of God and His fairness. Islam, however, takes this fundamental concept and follows it thoroughly. It builds on it many other religious concepts which follow the concept of justice inseparably. When God is just and fair, He does not impose on any soul to do what is beyond its ability. Islam tells us also that the Most Just does not hold an individual responsible except for what he does by his own choice. He does not hold a person responsible for the sins of his father or forefathers because he had no control over their actions.
 
Islam tells us also that because God does not hold a person responsible for what his father did, He does not condemn the whole human race for a sin that was committed before the existence of any human generation. Such a condemnation is contradictory to the concept of the justice of God Instead of burdening mankind with the original sin, Islam tells us that every human being is born pure and free of any sin, and will stay so, until he commits a sin as an adult.
 
6. THE PRINCIPLES OF ISLAM HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE TOWARDS ALL ASPECTS OF THE HUMAN LIFE
Islam, unlike many other religions, stresses the importance of both the spiritual and material aspects of the human life. God, according to Islam, does not want man to neglect his biological needs, nor is there an intrinsical conflict between our response to these needs and our spiritual development. On the contrary, the two sides are interdependent. They merge in each other and can be united in most of the human activities. A man who lacks the necessary food, warmth, and shelter, can hardly meditate, perform a devotional duty, or do good for other human beings. But when such necessities are satisfied, man can easily direct himself to his Lord.
 
Therefore, the well-intended work for meeting the bodily needs ought to be a portion of our religious duty. Religion, according to the Islamic teaching, does not aim at suppression of the biological desires; it aims at cultivating them and preventing the individual from becoming excessive and harmful to himself or to society.
 
7. THE PRINCIPLES OF ISLAM ARE UNIVERSAL
The universality of the Islamic teaching can be shown in its non-discriminatory teaching in regard to the human race, and in the recognition of all the previous prophets.
 
Since the time of its birth, Islam has carried the brand of universality. It addressed itself to the whole human race, discriminating neither among nations nor among ethnic groups. Every human being is a member of a huge family. No individual or nation is God's chosen or favorite creation because of birth, nationality, or belief in a particular dogma. People are equal in the sight of God, and everyone may have an access to the kingdom of God, if he (she) is righteous.
 
A truth never contradicts another truth. Therefore, Islam proclaims that there is only one heavenly religion which has been revealed at different times to the prophets whom the Almighty had commissioned to convey His messages to mankind. It is inconceivable that the Almighty would reveal a certain doctrine to one messenger and then reveal to another messenger a doctrine that contradicts the first one. The Almighty has revealed his heavenly principles, commandments and laws at different stages of the human civilization according to the capacity of the human understanding. The subsequent revelation supplements, and never contradicts, the previous ones. Therefore, Islam says that it is a duty for every Muslim to recognize and respect Jesus, Moses, and all true prophets and their true teachings. This is repeatedly recorded in the Holy Qur'an:

"Say: We believe in God and (in) that which has been revealed to us, and to Abraham, .. .and that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and that which was given to the prophets from their Lord. We do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit." 2:136

The Christians who were in contact with the Muslims in the early days of Islam observed the great respect the Muslims had for Jesus. As a result, millions of them embraced Islam, not because they wanted to abandon the teaching of Jesus, but because they wanted to continue their adherence to his true teaching within the coherent teaching of Islam.
 
Wilson: Does Islam advocate sending missionaries to convert non-Muslims in a manner similar to that which has been practiced in Christianity?
  
Chirri: Islam, like Christianity, invites people to its principles and calls upon the non-Muslims to join its followers. However, Islam has never organized missions such as those of Christianity. Whenever a non-Muslim shows an interest in learning about Islam, it is the duty of every Muslim to inform him. Such work, however, is far from being organized missions.
 
The absence of clergy in Islam was one of the reasons for the absence of organized missions parallel to those of Christianity. Another factor is that a great number of Muslims incline to believe that Islam would spread without missionaries. This inclination was a result of many spectacular gains for Islam through no great efforts on the part of the Muslims.
 
Millions of people in many countries embraced Islam, not through organized missions, but through their contact with some Muslims who impressed them with their integrity and sound principles. Those Muslims imparted the ideas of their faith to the others, not because they were sent by some authorities as missionaries, but because they believed that Islam is every Muslim's business.
 
I have been in West Africa several times. I found numerous Christian missionaries in that part of the world, but I failed to see any organized Muslim missions. In spite of this, the consensus of the opinions of the informed circles in this field is that Islam is spreading more rapidly than Christianity in that area.
 
Wilson: Do you have any information about the number of Christian missionaries throughout the world?
 
Chirri: The number of Christian missionaries throughout the world (according to the Detroit News of Sunday, April 2, 1961) is 212,250. This figure includes 170,000 Catholic missionaries and 42,250 Protestant. This huge army of missionaries is supported by thousands of religious organizations who are spending billions of dollars every year on these missions. Compared to this, the Muslims have some information centers whose number throughout the world does not reach one thousand. These centers do not enjoy any of the financial support which the Christian missionaries receive, nor do they aim at converting others. Their work is only to inform, within their limitation, those who seek information about Islam.
 
Wilson: Some people attribute the spread of Islam to its leniency. They think that Islam is less demanding of its followers than other religions such as Christianity. What is your comment?
  
Chirri: I think that this opinion is not sound. Islam demands from its followers more than many other religions do. It demands from the Muslims to pray five times a day: before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, and in the evening. It requires Muslims to fast thirty consecutive days every year during the month of Ramadan. A fasting person is required to refrain from eating, taking any liquid, and smoking from dawn to sunset. Islam requires every physically and financially capable adult to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and all the holy places in it and its vicinity, where men are to renounce all luxuries and materials including sewn clothes for a considerable time.
  
Islam also requires every Muslim to give a portion of his wealth every year to charity. It prohibits liquor and pork. None of these things are easy, and none of them show a leniency on the part of Islam. Nor is there any leniency in its demanding from its followers to treat others in a brotherly manner, protecting their reputation and refraining from saying anything that may expose them, even those who do them harm.
 
Wilson: Some critics say that Islam promises the good Muslims a paradise in which they will enjoy everything they may desire. These critics think that Islam out-promises Christianity, and therefore, it is attracting people through its promises.
 
Chirri: A promise is attractive only if it comes from a reliable source. If a reputable company offers an individual a well-paying job, he is likely to accept the position. On the other hand, if the same individual is offered a position by an unreliable or a bankrupt firm, he is expected to refuse the offer because he will not have any confidence in the firm's financial reliability.
  
Similarly, I do not think that a convert would be willing to perform so many duties and renounce so many desirable things for the sake of promises if he does not have the confidence in Islam. No promise is attractive if it is made by an unreliable source. Attractiveness of a promise is a result of confidence. Faith in Islam, therefore, precedes the attractiveness of its promise, not vice versa.
 
Wilson: History shows that the early Muslims were militant and warriors. Many armed conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims took place in Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, and many other places. Some critics think that Islam was spread by force, and not by preaching and discussion.
 
Chirri: Force may conquer the body, but it cannot conquer the spirit. You may subdue an individual or community by the use of force, but you cannot make them believe that you are right. The Algerians were dominated by colonial France for about a hundred years, but that did not make them love their rulers. As soon as they had the opportunity, they rose in arms against their masters and broke their yoke.
 
It is illogical to believe that Islam had spread itself by force. Mohammad, as one person, could not force thousands or hundreds to embrace his faith. History testifies that Mohammad lived thirteen years in Mecca after he proclaimed his faith, under a constant threat from his opponents who were the overwhelming majority of the Meccans. Anyone that desired to join Islam was denounced, threatened, and persecuted by the Meccans; and, in spite of this, the number of Muslims steadily increased. Can we conceive that Mohammad under these circumstances could convert people by force when he himself was a subject of persecution?
 
At a later stage, the Muslims had become powerful enough to fight their opponents; and history shows that they did fight for Islam. But this does not mean that Islam had converted people by force. There are now over 100 million Muslims in Indonesia and scores of millions in West Africa. All these millions were converted through peaceful contacts with Muslims who came to these areas as merchants or educators.
 
There is, however, no reason to deny that Muslims were militant The Muslims actually were good defenders of their freedom We know that no ideology would spread or live in an unfree society. Freedom of belief, practice, and speech, are necessary for the growth of any ideology. In the absence of a constitutional protection of freedom, it would be the duty of the people of the ideology to secure their freedom on their own. If this does not justify the military might of the early Muslims, there will be no way to justify the military might of any modern nation that rises in arms to defend its freedom when it is threatened by its

How Islam Views the Universal Creation

Wilson: With the progress of science, many questions may arise about the creation of the universe. These questions do not seem to have their answers in the Bible, and sometimes we find some Biblical statements contrary to the scientific knowledge of today. I wonder if we can find answers to some questions in the book of Islam.
 
The universe now has been proven to be very old. Its age is estimated to be billions of years. It seems that the Bible reduces the age of the universe to just a few thousand years. Does the Holy Qur'an contain any definition of the age of the universe?
 
Chirri: The Holy Qur'an does not define the age of the universe in any way. Science so far is not able to tell exactly when the universe began. The Holy Qur'an had been introduced in a non-scientific age when people were not able to conceive the stretch of time into billions or millions of years. Had the Qur'an stated that the stars were originated billions of years ago, people may have rejected the whole concept of Islam. The Qur'an, therefore, wisely kept silent on this matter. To be true, you do not need to tell all of what you know of truth; you need only to refrain from misinforming the people. Thus, the door was kept open to any scientific theory, so the religious information will not clash with any scientific knowledge.
 
Wilson: The celestial bodies, the stars, and the planets now are being counted by billions and hundreds of billions. The size of each is tremendous and, sometimes, beyond our imagination. To form such countless bodies, it would take amounts of materials beyond our ability to calculate. Do we have any statements in the Qur'an on the kind of material out of which these bodies were built?
 
Chirri: The Holy Qur'an states that the material out of which these bodies were built was a kind of gas. This is in accordance with the modern theory which says that the celestial bodies were built out of hydrogen gas. From the Holy Qur'an:

"Then He directed Himself to the heaven, and it was a vapor, so He said to it and to the earth: 'Come both of you, willingly or unwillingly.' They both said: 'We come willingly.' " 41:11

Wilson: Does the Holy Qur'an contain any statement about the first material thing that was created?
 
Chirri: The quoted verse indicates that the vapor or what constitutes the vapor of molecules and atoms was the first material thing which existed in this world.
 
Wilson: Of what material did the Almighty create life?
 
Chirri. The Holy Qur'an declares that God has created all living beings out of water:

"Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens and the Earth were closed up, so We split them, and We made from water everything living? Will they not then believe?" 21:30

"And God has created every walking life out of water, of them that which crawls upon its belly, and of them is that which walks upon two feet, and of them that which walks upon four. God creates what He pleases. Surely God is Possessor of power over all things." 24:45

THE ORDER OF CREATION

Wilson: Does the Qur'an confirm the statement of the Bible which is contained in the Genesis book about the order in the creation of the universe?
 
Chirri: The Qur'an does not contain such a statement on the order of the creations. However, Muslims do not subscribe to the contents of the first chapter in Genesis book because it shows some discrepancies.
 
Wilson: Give me some examples of those contradictions to which you refer.
 
Chirri: Take the following examples:
 
1. "Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Genesis 1:3-5
 
This statement indicates that the first thing created was the day and night.
 
But we know that day and night would come after the existence of the sun and through its rise and set. However, verse 14 from the same chapter indicates that the sun was created on the fourth day:

 "And God said, let there be lights in the firmaments of the heavens to separate the day from the night: and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let there be lights in the firmament of heavens to give light upon the earth, and it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; He made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning. A fourth day." 1:14-19

This statement indicates that the sun was created on the fourth day, and from here the days should start. This, of course, disagrees with verse 3 which informs us of the start of the day three stages before the formation of the sun.
 
2. The same chapter states that the vegetation, plants yielding seed, and the fruit trees were created and grown on the third day:

"And God said, 'Let the Earth put forth vegetables and plant yielding seed and the fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the Earth. And it was so. The Earth brought forth vegetation, plants, yielding seed according to their own kinds, and the trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day." 1:11-13

But we know that none of these vegetation and plants could grow without sun, while the same chapter tells us that the sun was created on the fourth day as mentioned before.
 
3. The same chapter states that God, on the sixth day, created man in His own image:

"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our own image, after Our likeness; . . . So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." 1:26-27

Muslims believe that God has no image and no form. He is the Infinite Who encompasses the whole universe. He has neither a body, nor is He material, nor do the visions comprehend Him. To think that God has a form of a man, to the Muslims, is degrading to the whole concept of God.
 
4. Chapter two contradicts the first chapter. The first chapter, as you know, has stated that vegetation and plants and the trees were created on the third day, before the creation of man, who was created on the sixth day. The second chapter tells us that man was created before vegetation and plants:

"These are the generations of the heavens and the Earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens . . . when no plant of the field was yet in the Earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up-for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the Earth, and there was no man to till the ground ... but a mist went up from the Earth and watered the whole face of the ground . . . then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being . . . And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the East; and there He put the man whom He had formed.... And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." Genesis 2:4-9

This statement clearly indicates that there was no plant before the creation of man.
 
There is another point in this statement, namely, that there is a tree of knowledge of good and evil. But we know that knowledge does not grow on trees; it comes through experience and learning.
 
5. The first chapter has stated that the animal kingdom was created on the fifth day:

"And God said, 'Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly above the Earth across the firmament of the heavens.' So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind; and God blessed them.... And there was evening, and there was morning, a fifth day.... And God made the beasts of the Earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind .... Then God said, 'Let us make man in Our image.... ' " 1:20-23

This statement clearly indicates that man was created after the creation of fish, birds, beasts and cattle, but the second chapter indicates that man was created before any of these things:

"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.' So out of the ground the Lord formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them...." 2:18-19

6. We find in the third chapter of the Genesis that Eve was deceived by the serpent which persuaded her to eat from the prohibited tree:

"He (the serpent) said to the woman, 'Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'. . . But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be open....' " 3:1-5

But we know that a serpent is not capable of speaking, deceiving or persuading. A serpent is not endowed with a mental capacity or ability of pronouncing words and carrying on a conversation.

7. In the same chapter we find what indicates the limitation of the knowledge of God, and that He is a walking body, and that Adam and Eve were able to hide themselves from Him:

"And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?' and he said, 'I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.' He said, 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'..." 3:8-1 1

No one can hide himself from God Who is Ever-Present and Who knows everything. God does not need to ask Adam where he is, nor does He need to ask Adam if he had eaten from the tree.

The Creator of the Universe

Wilson: I know that the belief in God, the Creator of the Universe, is the first article in the Islamic faith, and that the denial of His existence puts a person outside the religion of Islam. But I do not know whether Islam offers any concrete evidence on the existence of the Supreme Being or whether it advises its followers to rely on the authoritative words of the Qur'an and the statements of the Prophet.
 
Chirri: Islam demands from its followers to believe in God, the Creator of the Universe, but it does not advise them to base such a belief on the statement of any religious book or any authoritative words, not even the word of the Holy Qur'an or of the holy Prophet. Our belief in a holy book, such as the Qur'an, or in a holy prophet, such as Mohammad, must be preceded by our belief in God. A religious book is holy because it is introduced by a man whom we consider a prophet. Prophethood is conceivable only if there is God, because a prophet is a messenger of God. Our belief in God, therefore, must come before our belief in a religious book or a prophet, not vice versa.
 
No religious book is believed by all people, and no prophet is universally recognized. Therefore, it would be futile to rely on an authoritative statement of a prophet or a holy book when dealing with an atheist who disclaims all heavenly revelations and denies the whole concept of God.
 
Wilson: Should I understand from your statement that Islam offers for substantiating the existence of God some universal evidence which may be considered even by those who are not committed to any religion, such as the atheists and the agnostics? If this is what you mean, what is that evidence?
 
Chirri: When our belief in God precedes any other religious belief, the evidence which produces such a belief must be universal and available to every rational being, whether committed or uncommitted to a particular religion.
  
The Holy Qur'an offers the universe as evidence on the existence of its Creator. The material world, its celestial bodies, the earth, and the other planets, are viewed by Islam to be the main evidence of the Creator of matter and energy. The material world is observable by the atheist as well as by the believer, by the illiterate as well as by the philosopher. One may reflect on the formation of the heavenly bodies and the existence of the matter and energy without being committed to any particular religion or recognizing any religious book.
 
Wilson: But why should a person consider the existence of the material world as evidence of the existence of the creator of matter? Is it not probable that matter existed without a creator? Suppose someone views that matter or energy is infinitely old, and that it never was preceded by non-existence. Would you be able to disprove his views?
 
Chirri: It is very hard to accept the idea that matter is infinitely old.
 
When one says that matter or energy is infinitely old, one assumes that the material out of which the billions of stars were built, existed simultaneously. When we are aware that each star contains billions of tons of materials, and that the balance of the raw material is much more than the material which is contained in the stars and planets, we realize the improbability of such an idea. We cannot conceive that all these quantities of materials existed at once and that nothing of it was preceded by non-existence.
 
To say that only a portion of the material is infinitely old, and that the other portions came to existence at a later stage, is to admit the need of a creator, because the inanimate material does not increase by self-reproduction. Only living beings are capable of multiplying by self-reproduction. To allow any gradual increase in the material quantity is to admit the need of a creator.
 
Wilson: I may agree with you that matter and energy must have been preceded by non-existence. But this is not very obvious to every human being. Does the teaching of Islam suggest the consideration of anything in the nature that was undoubtedly preceded by non-existence?
 
Chirri: Yes, there is something which we all know, and it was born after the existence of the earth, namely: life. Our scientists state that earth was too hot (and some of them say it was too cold) for any kind of life to exist on it. It took the earth millions of years to become a suitable place for life. Life, therefore, is, undoubtedly, a newborn.
  
Science, however, tells us that life does not originate from non-living being. Pasteur's experiment, which took place in the 19th century, is still standing. Through his sterilized soup, he proved beyond any doubt that life does not originate from inanimate material. The scientists of today are still unable to disprove his conclusion.
 
The earth, along with its atmosphere, at the time of its formation was sterile and unproductive. Transforming the inanimate materials, such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and iron into a living being could not, therefore, be done through a natural process. It must have been done miraculously. This means that the existence of life on this planet is a shining evidence on the existence of an Intelligent, Supernatural Designer.
 
Wilson: You have made it very clear. As a matter of fact, the scientists for several decades have tried ceaselessly to unseal the secret of life and to explain its commencement on this planet. But their intensified efforts so far did not produce any substantial knowledge in this field. The presence of life on this planet is, no doubt, a great wonder that could not happen without a supernatural cause. Man has unsealed many secrets in the universe, advanced in his scientific and technical knowledge, and even landed on the moon; but in spite of all this, he is still unable to produce a leaf of a plant or a seed of an apple.
 
Wilson: Now I would like to ask you if the Qur'an cites the existence of life on our planet in substantiating the existence of God?
 
Chirri: Yes, the Holy Qur'an does cite the transformation of the inanimate earth elements into living being as a sign of God's existence:

". . . and a sign to them is the dead earth: We made it alive and brought forth from it grain so they eat of it and We made therein gardens of date-palms and grapes, and We made springs to flow forth therein." 36:33-34

Wilson: So far, you have answered many important questions about the existence of God, but there is one more important question you have not dealt with: Why can we not see God?
 
Chirri: From our previous discussions, it became clear that the Creator of the universe must be Absolute and Unlimited. He encompasses the whole universe. He is Omnipresent and never absent from anywhere. With His Omnipresence, His visibility is not going to make us believe in Him or know Him. His visibility would be very destructive to us. Before we know Him with His Omnipresence, we would perish. His visibility would be blinding to every human being.
 
Suppose that the air (which exists only in a very limited space) is visible. It would have a color, and we would not be able to see anything but the air because it fills the atmosphere. Should this be the case, we would not be able to acquire our food or water, nor would we be able to find roads or shelters. If the visibility of the air which exists only in the atmosphere of our little planet would be so blinding and destructive, what would be the case of the visibility of the Creator who encompasses the universe? When we think of this, we realize how fortunate we are not to be able to see God, our Creator.
 
Wilson: If the Almighty is Invisible, how can we be sure of His existence? How would an atheist believe in a God whom he cannot see?
 
Chirri: In order to believe in something, you do not necessarily have to see it. You believe in electricity, yet you cannot see it. You believe in it only because you see its products such as light, heat, etc. If this is sufficient to make you a believer in the existence of electricity, the great universe should be sufficient to every human being to believe in the existence of its Creator.
 
Wilson: Give me an example other than electricity.
 
Chirri: Your very existence is a great evidence on the existence of Adam and Eve, or let us say the first two human beings. You did not see Adam and Eve, but you believe that they existed.
 
To make it more clear: You came through your parents. Your parents came through their parents, and your grandparents came through their parents, and so on. You may continue going back until you reach Adam and Eve. If you deny the existence of the first two human beings, you would be eliminating the first generation of their children. By eliminating the first generation, you eliminate the second and what is beyond it. Finally, you have to eliminate your own parents. Then you have to eliminate yourself. But you say to yourself: I cannot do that because I am here. Then you have to say: Adam and Eve were there.
 
Wilson: You have made the matter clear. We have to believe in God. But how can we believe that He had no beginning while everything other than Him had a beginning?
 
Chirri: The Creator of the universe cannot be preceded by non-existence; otherwise, He would need another god to create Him; and that god, if he is preceded by non-existence, would need another god and so on. Thus, we would have an endless chain of gods without reaching a causeless cause to be the source of the existence of the universe. Then we have to deny the existence of the universe. We would also have to deny ourselves because we are a part of the universe.
 
One Creator

Wilson: You have previously stated that the oneness of God (INQUIRY 2) is the most emphasized theme in the Holy Qur'an; that Islam, for this reason, is called "Deen Al-Touhid" (the religion of the belief in the oneness of God); and that professing His oneness is the first phrase in the Declaration of the Faith:

"I bear witness that there is no god but the Almighty God and that Mohammad is a messenger of God."

Does Islam offer any evidence on this important principle?
 
Chirri: The Holy Qur'an cites the relationship among the sections of the universe as evidence on the unity of its Creator. It advises us to look at the order which exists in the universe, and the fact that such an order could not exist if there were more than One Creator. More than one administration for the universe is like more than one administration for one city, state, or country. It produces confusion and disorder.

"If there were in them (the heavens and the Earth) gods besides the Almighty God, they would have been in a state of disorder. Glory be to Him. He is above what they describe. " 21 :22

"And know, my son," the Imam Ali, son of Abu Talib, said to his son Al-Hasan, "that if your Lord has a partner, the messengers of His partner would have come to you. But He is only One God, alone without partner. " Nahjul Balagha, Part 3, p. 44

Wilson: What is the view of Islam on the doctrine of the Trinity?
 
Chirri: Islam emphatically denies this doctrine. The Holy Qur'an declares:

"Say: God is One on Whom all depend. He did not beget, nor was He begotten, and none is equal to Him." 112:1-4

"And they say the Beneficent has taken to Himself a son. Certainly you make an abominable assertion. The heavens may almost burst, and the Earth cleave asunder, and the mountains fall down in pieces, that they ascribe a son to the Beneficent. And it is not worthy of the Beneficent that He should take to Himself a son." 19:88-92

Wilson: Why does Islam deny so emphatically the doctrine of the Trinity?
 
Chirri: Islam denies Trinity because parenthood of God to any living or non-living being is inconceivable in bodily terms and degrading to the concept of God. He is neither limited nor a body, and He encompasses the whole universe. He does not have a mate in order to have a child as any other living being does.
 
His spiritual parenthood to any soul or spirit is also inconceivable if it means other than being the Creator of that soul or spirit. There is no conceivable relation between God and any other being other than the relation between the Creator and His creature. Otherwise, the other being will be independent from God, and he will be His partner.
  
Now, if the ascribed son is united with God, the case will be as if I state that my son and I are one. If such a statement were true, I would be the father of myself, because I am my own son. And my son would be the son of himself, because he is I. Thus, God would be the father of Himself, and His son would be the son of himself.
 
God is not, and cannot be, the father of any living or non-living being if fatherhood is used for its true meaning. If the word is used in its figurative sense, to mean that God is as compassionate to His living creature as a father, then He will not only be the father of one person but the father of all mankind. And this is what can be understood from the Christian prayer, "Our father, Thou art in Heaven. . . "
 
But even this figurative usage of the word is repugnant to Islam because it is misleading and confusing to the people. Muslims, therefore, do not use it.
 
Wilson: Your statement indicates that the Muslims do not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Do you have any clear evidence against his divinity?
 
Chirri: You do not need to disprove the divinity of Jesus or Mohammad or any other human being. But if you claim the divinity of anyone besides God, you need to prove your claim. If someone claims that you are an angel, he has to prove it. I do not need to prove that you are a man because you appear as a man and have all the attributes of a man. The one who claims that you are an angel is supposed to prove what he claims, because his claim is contrary to the common sense and to what appears as the actual fact.
 
When a person says that Jesus or Mohammad is a man, and not a God, he agrees with the accepted definition. Jesus lived like a man, looked like a man, slept as a man, ate as a man, and was persecuted like one. None of these facts need proof. This is not the case with the one who claims his divinity. His claim is opposed to the common knowledge. Therefore, he, and no one else, has to provide the evidence for his claim.
 
Although the Muslims are not supposed to provide any evidence for the denial of the divinity of Jesus, they can present more than one evidence:
 
1. Jesus was a worshipper. Of course, he worshipped God, not himself. This proves that he was not a god but a very humble servant of God.
2. According to three of the gospels, the last words Jesus uttered were: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" A person who has a God is not a God.
3. God is Ever-Living, but Jesus is mortal; God is the Almighty, but Jesus was persecuted.
 
Wilson: Why cannot we view Jesus as a god from his spiritual side and a mortal human from his bodily side?
 
Chirri: Having two sides, spirit and body, is not the exclusive property of Jesus, because every human being has these two sides. You have both spirit and body, and so do I. And neither of our spirits is mortal, since our spirits will continue to live after our death. But this does not make either of us a god, and so is the case with Jesus.
 
Wilson: But Jesus is not like us. He, according to the Qur'an and the Bible, was born from a virgin mother without a father. Does not this mean that he is more than a human being?
 
Chirri: Being born from a mother without a father does not make Jesus more than a human being. Adam was created without father and mother, and that did not make him more than a human. From the Holy Qur'an:

"Certainly the status of Jesus in the eyes of God is like the status of Adam. He created him from dust. He said to him: 'Be,' and so he was." 3:59

Neither Jesus nor Adam is a god because neither of them is the Creator of the universe.
 
Wilson: How do we know that he was not the Creator of the universe?
 
Chirri: The scientists say that the stars are more than four billion years old, and Jesus was born less than two thousand years ago. How can such an old universe be created by such a young creator?
 
Wilson: You are entirely right, and I think you have made the fact clear enough to convince any fair-minded person. Actually, the facts which you have mentioned are well known to everyone. It is amazing how people lose sight of them. I think that they do so because they are taught the divinity of Jesus since childhood. This teaching is repeated so much at home and in church that it remains in the children's minds; and when they grow up, it grows as a part of their thinking. They do not question it because it is taken for granted.
 
From what has been advanced, it has become clear to me that the uncompromising view of Islam on the oneness of God is the most reasonable. Therefore, I bear witness that there is no God but the Almighty God, alone without a partner, associate, or son.
 
Where Islam and Christianity Agree and Differ on Jesus

Wilson: The whole issue of Islamic monotheism, by your explanation, has become clear. The Islamic teaching concerning Jesus also has been made clear. Now I would like a summary of the points on which Islam and Christianity agree in regard to Jesus.
 
Chirri: Islam agrees with Christianity, in general, on the following points:
 
1. Islam advocates the holiness of Jesus. As a matter of fact, it is an essential part of the Islamic teaching to revere Jesus and to believe in his holiness, and that he lived in this world as a pure person free of any sin. From the Holy Qur'an:

"When the angels said: 'O Mary! Surely God gives thee good news of a word from Him whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary, worthy of regard in this world and the hereafter, and of those who are highly accepted by God.' " 3:45

2. Islam declares the holiness of Mary, the mother of Jesus. No Muslim can doubt the decency and purity of Mary. She, according to the Qur'an, had been the most noble among the women of the nations:

"And when the angels said: 'O Mary! Certainly God has chosen thee and made thee pure and has preferred thee above the women of all nations. 'O Mary! Be obedient to thy Lord, prostrate thyself and bow with those who bow (in worship).'" 3:42-43

3. Islam declares that Jesus was miraculously born from a virgin mother with no father. From the Holy Qur'an:

"And mention Mary in the book. When she withdrew to a place east of her family. She screened herself from them; then We sent to her Our angel, and he appeared to her as a man in all respects. She said: 'I seek refuge in God against you if you are righteous.' He said: 'I am only a Messenger of Thy Lord to grant to you a pure boy.' She said: 'How can I have a son, and no mortal has yet touched me, nor have I been unchaste?' He said: 'So (it will be). Thy Lord says: "It is easy for Me; and that We may make him a sign to men and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter decreed. Then she conceived him; and withdrew with him to a remote place. And the throes of childbirth drove her to the trunk of the palm-tree. She said: 'Oh, would that I had died before this, and had been a thing quite forgotten. So a voice came to her from beneath her: 'Grieve not, surely thy Lord has provided a stream beneath thee. And shake towards thee the trunk of the palm-tree, it will drop on thee fresh ripe dates. So eat and drink and be pleased. Then if thou seest any human, say: "Surely I have vowed a fasting for the sake of the Beneficent, so I will not speak to any human today." 19:16-26

4. The Qur'an attributes to Jesus many of the miracles which are mentioned in the Gospel. According to the Holy Qur'an, Jesus was empowered by God to cure the sick, revive the dead, and make the blind see:

"... and He (God) will make him (Jesus) a messenger to the children of Israel (saying): 'I have come to you with a sign from your Lord that I fashion for you, out of clay, the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by permission of God. I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead by permission of God. And I announce unto you what ye eat and what ye store in your houses. 'Lo! Herein verily is a sign for you, if ye are to be believers.' " 3:49

In addition to this, the Holy Qur'an ascribes to Jesus a miracle that is not recorded in the gospels: Jesus spoke clearly while he was in the cradle:

"Then she came to her people with him, carrying him. They said: 'O Mary, thou hast indeed brought a strange thing. O sister of Aaron, thy father was not a wicked man, nor was thy mother an unchaste woman.' But she pointed to him. They said: 'How should we speak to a one who is a child in the cradle?' He said: 'I am indeed a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet; and He has made me blessed wherever I may be, and He has enjoined on me prayer and purity so long as I live. And to be kind to my mother; and He has not made me insolent, un-blessed. And Peace be on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised to life (in the Hereafter).' " 19:27-33

Wilson: The points of agreement, by your explanations, have become clear. I know that the followers of various religions have differed on the issue of Jesus Christ. Some of them can be considered anti-Jesus because they deny his holiness and the holiness of his mother, disbelieve in his miracles and reject his truth; some of them are neutral, neither for nor anti-Jesus; and some of them are pro-Jesus, believing in his holiness and accepting all his teachings and believing in his miracles.
 
According to your explanation, Muslims ought to be considered pro-Jesus, as well as the Christians themselves. What remains now is to see the points in which the Muslims and the Christians disagree concerning Jesus.
 
Chirri: The area of disagreement between Islam and Christianity, concerning Jesus, includes the following points:
 
1. Although Islam accepts the holiness of Jesus, it denies his divinity. According to the teaching of Islam, Jesus is no deity. He is not God, nor is he united with God. He is worthy of reverence and great respect, but he is not worthy of worship. Islam is uncompromising in its Monotheism. God is only One, and there is no God but He, the Almighty, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent, the Infinite in life, knowledge, and power. Jesus is not ever-living. He was born less than 2000 years ago, and according to the gospels, he died after a very short life. He is not almighty because he was a subject of persecution; nor was he infinite. He could not be the Creator of the world because the world is over four billion years old, while he was born less than two thousand years ago. He is not worthy of worship because he himself was a humble worshipper of God.
 
2. Jesus, according to the teaching of Islam, is not a son of God. God does not have any son or child, because He is above that. Bodily parenthood is inconceivable in His case because He is not physical. Spiritual parenthood also is not conceivable, because He is the Creator of every spiritual and material being. The Holy Qur'an is clear on this point:

"And (they) impute falsely, without knowledge, sons and daughters unto Him. Glorified be He and high exalted above (all) that they ascribe (unto Him). The Originator of the heavens and the Earth! How can He have a child when there is no consort for Him, when He created all things and is Aware of all things? Such is God, your Lord. There is no God save Him, the Creator of all things, so worship Him. And He taketh care of all things." 6:100-102

3. Islam denies the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus did not die on the cross. The Holy Qur'an is clear on this point.

"And because of their saying: 'We slew the Messiah Jesus Son of Mary, the Messenger of God.' They slew him not nor crucified him, but appeared so unto them; and lo! Those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof but the pursuit of a conjecture; for certain they slew him not, but God took him up to Himself. God is Ever-Mighty, Wise." 4:157-158

Wilson: This view is in a sharp contrast with the statements of all the gospels. The four gospels clearly state that Jesus died on the cross. How can we reconcile this with the statement of the Qur'an which denies emphatically the death of Jesus on the cross?
 
Chirri: There is a way to reconcile the Qur'anic statement with the statements of the gospels: The difference between the two statements could be a difference between appearance and reality. No doubt, some event had taken place at the time of what seemed to be the crucifixion of Jesus and his death on the cross. The life of Jesus was full of miracles, and so could be what seemed to be his death. It could have been that another person (such as Judas, the one who betrayed him) was miraculously likened to him, and he, not Jesus, died on the cross.
 
There is another way to reconcile the two statements without resort to assumption of any miracle: Suppose Jesus was put on the cross, and that he had fainted, so he appeared dead, while he was still alive.
 
This assumption is not without evidence from the gospels: The gospels state that Jesus did not stay very long on the cross. He was taken down hurriedly, without breaking his legs, while it was the custom to break the legs of the crucified. The Jews were preparing to celebrate Passover. They did not want him to stay on the cross until the next day, Saturday, on which they are not supposed to do any work such as burial. As Jesus did not stay too long on the cross, he could have remained alive.
 
The gospels state also that after Jesus appeared to be dead, a man struck at his body with a lance, and that the blood gushed out from his body. We know that blood does not flow from a dead body. This indicates that Jesus was still alive.
 
The gospels state that Jesus was laid in his tomb, and that a heavy stone was laid above the tomb, and that on Sunday, the body was missing, and that the stone was removed from the mouth of the tomb. We have the right to suspect that some of the disciples of Jesus removed the stone and rescued him. Were Jesus resurrected miraculously, there would have been no need for removal of the stone. God is able to raise him from the grave and keep the stone where it was. The removal of the stone seems to be a human, and not a Divine, work.
 
In addition to this, the gospels state that Jesus appeared several times to his disciples after the event of crucifixion. All these appearances seemed to have taken place in secrecy, and that Jesus was not willing to appear openly. Were he miraculously resurrected, he would not have had to hide from his enemies. The secrecy of his appearances indicates that he was still living as he did before, and that his life was not interrupted by a short death, and that he was still afraid of the pursuit of his enemies.
 
The international society of the Holy Shroud has recently concluded that the stains of blood on the shroud of Jesus indicate that Jesus was still living when he was taken down from the cross. Otherwise, there would be no blood on the sheet which covered his body afterwards.
 
A Christian, believing in the crucifixion of Jesus, would have a hard time reconciling two of the principles in which he believes, namely: Jesus is God, and Jesus was crucified. A crucified person cannot be God because he is unable to protect himself, let alone be almighty.
 
A Muslim, on the other hand, does not have such a problem. He believes that Jesus is a prophet and no more. A prophet may be persecuted and crucified, because a prophet is not supposed to be almighty. Although Islam does not have the problem of contradiction, it has solved the problem which it does not have. Jesus was not crucified. God had protected him.
 
4. Islam disagrees with Christianity on the Doctrine of Redemption. The Doctrine of Redemption is based on the Doctrine of the Original Sin: that mankind had been condemned by God because of the sin of Adam and Eve which was consequently inherited by their children. Islam denies the whole Doctrine of the Original Sin; God did not condemn mankind because a sin was committed by a couple at the beginning of time. (This will be made clear in the following inquiry.) There is no original sin; therefore, there is no need for redemption to mankind out of a sin that did not exist.
 
Furthermore, suppose that there is an original sin. To forgive mankind their original sin, God does not need a sinless person, such as Jesus, to be crucified. He can forgive the human race without causing an innocent person to suffer. To say that God does not forgive mankind unless mankind crucifies Jesus, is to put Him in the position of a ruler who was disobeyed by his own subjects. When the children asked the ruler to forgive the sin of their fathers, he refused to do so unless they kill one of his beloved ones. If they commit such a terrible crime, he will forgive them; otherwise, he will not. I do not think that the advocates of the original sin would be willing to put God in such a position. God, the Most Just and Merciful, does not condemn people because of their ancestor's sin. He may forgive them their own sins without requiring them to commit a bigger one.
  
Divine Justice
  
Wilson: I know that the Holy Qur'an is clear on certain attributes of God such as The Merciful, The Wise, The Benevolent, the Ever-Living, the Creator of the universe, the One without a partner, associate, or son. But I would like to know if The "Just" is one of the attributes of God. I was told by some Muslims that it is one of His attributes, and by some others that it is not.
 
Chirri: No logical religion can afford to deny or doubt the justice of God and His fairness. To deny His justice is to undermine the religious concept entirely. No religious belief, not even the belief in the existence of the Supreme Being, would avail us without the belief in His justice.
 
An unfair ruler may reward the wrongdoer and penalize the good doer. If one obeys him, he will not necessarily secure his satisfaction. If one disobeys him, he will not be certain that he is out of his favor.
 
Furthermore, we believe in heavenly messages and God's messengers because we think that He is fair enough to tell His human servants what He wants from them. But an unfair God may not tell us anything or may tell us something He does not mean to tell. By this, the whole doctrine of prophethood will collapse.
 
Denial of the justice of God would also lead to denial of the Hereafter, because the Hereafter is the world of carrying out justice by rewarding the good doers and punishing the wrongdoers.
 
In short, the concept of justice of God, to us, is as important as the concept of His existence and His oneness; and the denial of it is as destructive to religion as the denial of the existence of God or of His oneness. Therefore, the concept of justice of God ought to be considered part of the foundation of religion without which no religion can logically be established.
 
Islam is entirely in accord with this sound and logical thinking. The Holy Qur'an states the justice of God as emphatically as it states the oneness of God and His existence. In scores of passages, injustice has been denounced. In many passages, God is described as just, or that He does not want to do injustice to His servants, or that He will not waste the deed of any doer, or that He will not cause anyone to lose one atom's weight of good.

"The Almighty bears witness that there is no god but He, and (so do) the angels and those possessed of knowledge, (He is) maintaining justice. There is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise." 3:18

"So whoever does an atom's weight of good will see it (on the Day of Judgment), and whoever does an atom's weight of evil will see it." 99:7-8

Wilson: Your statement about the justice of God is one of the most reasonable statements I have ever heard. In fact, the importance of this religious doctrine cannot be exaggerated because the concept of God without His justice will not benefit us. We can neither trust nor please an unjust god. Judaism and Christianity share with Islam the same view, and no Christian or Jew doubts the justice of God and His fairness. The Doctrine of Justice of God, therefore, is Christian and Jewish as well as Islamic, and I do not see any difference among the three faiths in this respect.
 
Chirri: The difference between Islam and the other faiths in this respect is not about the concept of justice of God itself, but about the concepts which stem from this doctrine. Islam does not subscribe to any doctrine that contradicts the concept of the Divine Justice. Islam preaches and upholds all doctrines that may stem from the concept of the justice of God.
 
Wilson: Will you cite some of these doctrines which stem from the justice of God?
 
Chirri: I shall cite three of these principles which stem from the doctrine of Divine justice:
1. God does not ask His human creature to do what he cannot do. From the Holy Qur'an:

"God does not impose on a soul a duty but to the extent of its ability." 2:286

What is beyond your power is impossible for you. The Just God does not ask the impossible.
 
2. God does not hold any individual responsible but for his own deed which is under his control. No one is responsible for the deeds of others, even if they are his friends or relatives, as long as their action is not under his control. From the Holy Qur'an:

"Shall I seek a lord other than God while He is the Lord of everything, and no soul earns (evil) but against itself. Nor does a bearer of a burden bear the burden of another. Then to your Lord is your return, so He will in form you of that in which you differed." 6:164

3. If this is true, the human race could not be burdened by the action of Adam and Eve. To say that the whole human race is burdened with the heredity of the improper action of Adam and Eve is to say that the thousands of human generations share with Adam and Eve the responsibility of their action, and that they are condemned by God for a mistake which occurred before the birth of any of those generations. This, of course, is inconsistent with God's justice.
 
A human judge does not condemn a son for the sin of his parents which he did not share. How can we conceive that the Just God places the iniquity of the parents on their children or their great-grandchildren?
 
Therefore, Islam emphatically denies the Doctrine of the Original Sin, and considers every human being pure at the time of his birth and free of any sin. Actually, Islam offers the human infant as a perfect example of a pure and sinless being. Every human being, according to the teachings of Islam, is born pure and free of any sin and continues to be pure until he commits a sin as an adult.
 
By sinning at the age of adulthood, the individual loses his purity, but a person can regain it through a sincere repentance. When a person genuinely changes his attitude and sincerely intends not to repeat his sin, and truly pledges obedience to God, the Most Merciful will forgive and erase the sin.

 
Wilson: Let me digress for a moment: Adam and Eve were individuals like us. Let us assume that they repented sincerely after they made a mistake. Does that mean that their mistake was erased?
 
Chirri: If you assume that Adam had repented after he did the improper, you will not be wrong. Nor will you be mistaken if you believe that Adam was forgiven by God upon his repentance. The Holy Qur'an informs us that the Most Merciful accepted the repentance of Adam, and by this, the action of Adam was forgiven:

". . . and Adam received from his Lord words, and He relented towards him. Lo! He is the Relenting, the Merciful." 2:37

Wilson: If Adam was forgiven, why was he expelled from the paradise of God?
 
Chirri: The fall of Adam from paradise is not necessarily a punishment for a sin. It may be a necessary result of the change of his status. At the beginning, Adam was worthy of communicating with God at any time, and this was his bliss and paradise. By acting improperly, he became susceptible to slip again; that is, he had lost his immunity from impropriety. So unimmuned, he was no longer in such a high position that enables him to communicate with his Lord at any time. Now he is able to do so only at the time of his firm purity. His firm purity, of course, is no longer permanent as it was before he slipped, because he may slip once again.
 
Wilson: The Old Testament informs us that the sin of Adam was his eating from a tree, and that that tree was the tree of knowledge which God told him to avoid. What is the version of the Qur'an of this subject?
 
Chirri: The Holy Qur'an states that there was a prohibited tree and that the mistake of Adam was his eating from it. But the Qur'an is not specific on its kind. Knowing the logical spirit of Islam, I am sure that the tree was not a tree of knowledge because knowledge comes from learning and experience, and it does not grow on trees. There might have been no significance attached to the tree or its kind in the whole issue. The significant matter could have been the prohibition itself which God decreed to test the will of His servants Adam and Eve. Furthermore, God, according to the Holy Qur'an, loves knowledge; how would He forbid it?
 
Wilson: Let us end our digression and go back to the subject.
 
I am now convinced that Islam stands on a solid ground in preaching the purity of the human race and that its teaching in this field is very sound and consistent. It has, so far, adhered to the principle of justice of God and upheld the principle of the individual's responsibility which is inseparable from the justice of God.
 
When the Christians preach the Doctrine of the Original Sin, they actually construct a base to another doctrine, namely: the Doctrine of Redemption. Mankind, they say, is sinful and condemned because of the original sin. In other words, by inheriting the sin of Adam and Eve, we became sinful; therefore, we need to be redeemed in some way. Someone should pay for our sin. Jesus paid for it by being crucified. Thus, Jesus became the redeemer and the saviour of mankind.
  
By the denial of the original sin, the Doctrine of Redemption is left without foundation. You have already spoken on the subject, but now it has become clear that the Doctrine of Redemption is one of the principles which are not in accord with the concept of the justice of God.
 
Chirri: The whole issue of the Original Sin is, as we advanced, entirely opposed to the justice of God. Even if we forget about its inconsistency with His justice, we cannot conceive that the Most Just makes one person, an innocent person, Jesus, pay for the sin of the whole human race. Again, how can we wash a small sin, such as eating any apple, by the most terrible sin, the murder of a holy person, such as Jesus. Sin may, conceivably, be washed by a good deed, not by murder. Furthermore, how can we conceive that God, the Most Wise, would demand the blood of His dear messenger as a price of forgiveness?

Freedom versus Predestination

Wilson: There is an important issue which has a bearing on the concept of the Divine justice, and it is highly controversial in philosophy as well as religion; namely: man's freedom. The philosophers as well as the religious scholars differ on this question. Some of them advocate man's freedom, and that whatever he does he does by his free will; some of them deny this freedom, and think that what appears to be a free action or inaction of man is pre-arranged or a result of a certain cause or chain of causes.
 
I have read in some Islamic literature that Islam advocates predestination, and that all man's works were predestined by God, and that man cannot change the courses which he takes. I read, also, a different Islamic view which advocates man's freedom and denies the concept of predestination in man's action or inaction. I would like now to discuss with you this question and find out what Islam, actually, teaches in this important issue.
 
Chirri: To define the subject of our discussion, it would be necessary to make clear that our discussion does not include certain conditions not caused by man's own will, such as sickness, blindness, and death. In this area the absence of man's freedom is obvious. No one should claim that man has freedom in having such conditions, because these things do not come by man's choice. Our discussion includes only the area of man's work and action where man seems to be acting by his own choice and will. It is here that the old controversy is still burning and dividing the people into two camps: the camp which advocates man's freedom, and the camp which advocates predestination or Determinism.
 
Islam, as you know, informs us that God has revealed certain commandments; that He will reward the obedient of His commandments; and that He will punish the disobedient who do not comply with these commandments. A religion which preaches this can be consistent only if it advocates man's freedom, unless such a religion denies the concept of justice of God.
 
A religion that advocates both God's justice and predestination would clearly contradict itself when it states that God will reward the obedient of His commands and penalize the disobedient. When man's actions or inactions are pre-arranged by God, man will be unable to change his course. He will not be able to do one thing when he is predestined to do something else. Man would be like a machine. A machine is not able, by itself, to change its course, and it would be ridiculous to tell a machine to comply with a certain order or to reward a machine or penalize it.
 
Remove man's freedom, and the whole concept of religion is destroyed. As a matter of fact, if we deny man's freedom, there will be no need for any heavenly revelation. It would be futile to send prophets to teach and lead mankind. When a person is predestined to be an atheist, he shall not be a believer, and no prophet will be able to change his heart. A predestined criminal is not going to be a good citizen, regardless of any teaching he may receive.
 
Man's freedom, in fact, underlies the whole concept of religion, and Islam clearly advocates man's freedom.
 
Wilson: From our past discussions, I know that Islam advocates strongly the Doctrine of the Justice of God. Islam, therefore, is expected to advocate man's freedom and oppose the idea of predestination or what is called, in philosophy, "Determinism." I would like to know if the Holy Qur'an indicates man's freedom clearly.
 
Chirri: The Holy Qur'an has indicated, in more than one way, that man is a free agent. It declares that man is capable of changing his condition.
 
"Surely the Almighty changes not the condition of a people unless they change that which is in themselves." 13:11
Were man predestined to take a certain course, he would not be able to change that course. Whatever he does or avoids will be done or avoided, not by choice, but by necessity.
 
The Holy Qur'an has, also, declared that God does not ask the individual to do the impossible, nor does He place hardship on His servants:

"The Almighty imposes not on a soul a duty but to the extent of its ability." 2:286

"The Almighty desires not to place a hardship on you but He desires to purify you and to complete His favor upon you, so that you may be thankful." 5:8

For example, if man were predestined not to pray or to commit a murder and God tells him not to kill or to pray, He will be placing the greatest hardship on him, and He will be asking him to do what is impossible for him. He will not be asking him to do what is within his ability because he was predestined, before he was born, to kill and not to pray. Thus, He would not be able to comply with the order of God. The very fact that he is commanded to pray and prohibited from killing indicates that God views His human servant as a free creature, and that whatever he is commanded to do or not to do is within his ability.
 
The Holy Qur'an has, also, indicated man's freedom by stating and stressing the responsibility of every individual for what he does:

"Whoever goes aright, for his own soul he goes aright; and whoever goes astray, to his own detriment he goes astray." 39:41

"And no bearer of a burden bears another's burden .... " 53:38

"Say: O people, the truth has come to you from your Lord; So whoever goes aright, goes aright only for the good of his own soul: and whoever errs, he errs only against it. " 10:108

The very concept of responsibility of the individual indicates clearly that the individual is a free agent. Otherwise, he cannot be held responsible for anything that may be produced by him. Responsibility is inseparable from freedom.
 
Wilson: The verses which you have quoted from the Holy Qur'an truly indicate that man is endowed with a sufficient amount of freedom that makes him responsible and deserving of reward or punishment for his work. However, there are some verses which were quoted from the Qur'an by the advocates of predestination. These verses indicate that man's action is controlled by God. Of these verses are the following:

"Surely this (the Qur'an) is a reminder; so, whoever is willing, he may take a path to his Lord. And you do not will unless God wills...." 76:29-30

" It is naught but thy trial . Thou causest to err thereby whomever Thou pleasest and guidest whomever Thou pleasest...." 7:155

These verses indicate the opposite of what the verses which you quoted indicate. This leads to confusion and creates a dilemma.
 
Chirri: To a Muslim, the Holy Qur'an is the accurate record of revelation. It contains only the truth, and all the contents of the Holy Qur'an must be true. A truth never contradicts another truth. Whatever may seem to be a contradiction could not be genuine. It would only be an apparent contradiction.
 
When there are two groups of Qur'anic verses appearing to oppose each other, they have to be treated in a certain manner. When one of the groups has a clearer indication on one side of the issue than the indication of the other group on the opposite side of the same issue, the clearer group will be followed. The other group ought to be interpreted in a way that will not disagree with the first one. This treatment would be obviously necessary when the clearer group is in accordance with the logical side of the issue. And this is the case in the two above quoted groups.
 
Keeping this in mind, we may be able to understand the two groups and interpret the latter one in a way that it would not disagree with the former. We may understand from the first of the two verses in the second group that man's ability to choose is from God. Man may choose a certain course, but his capability of choosing is the gift of God. God is able to deprive him from this capability and interfere in His will. But God does not usually do that.
 
The second of the two verses, also, can be interpreted in a way that will not disagree with man's freedom: God may guide an individual to the right path, and He may leave another individual in error. But we cannot expect God to grant guidance to someone and to leave another in error on a random basis.
 
He may help a person by granting him a clear guidance when such a person is trying to find the truth and willing to follow it. He may leave a person in error when that person is not willing to accept the truth. By this interpretation, there will be no dilemma. The first group of verses would remain without opposition, indicating clearly man's freedom.
 
Wilson: God is the Creator of the whole universe, all its segments and all its events. No event in this world is outside His creation. Man's will is one of the events which take place in this world. Man, therefore, has no free will.
 
Chirri: If this is true, we have to ascribe to God all the injustices, aggressions and crimes which man commits. But no believer in God would ascribe to Him our vices and sins.
 
The truth is that God has created in man the power of choosing, and this means that He granted him a free will. God can direct man's will and make him choose a certain course if He wants to, but nothing in our life indicates that God usually interferes in our will. Since He granted us the power of choosing, we should expect Him to leave us without intervention. This means that He expects us to use our power of choosing and make our own decisions and have our own choices.
 
Wilson: God knows our future as well as our present and past. He knows what I shall do in the distant future as well as what I am doing right now. He knew before we were born what course we would take after our birth and in the future. Since everything is known to Him in advance, our action must have been predetermined long before we act.
We would be unable to take a new course that is not known to God, nor can we fail to take the course which has been foreseen by Him. Our failure to take the very course which He knew, would be a failure in His knowledge. The knowledge of God never fails.
 
Chirri: Our knowledge of certain events does not determine those events, nor does our knowledge cause those events to happen. I know, for example, that all the workers at a particular factory eat their lunch at noon. This does not mean that my knowledge or expectation has caused them to take their lunch at that time. God, no doubt, foresees our future, but this does not necessarily mean that all our future actions are caused by His knowledge. Each and every one of our actions has its own cause, and the main factor is the particular human will which calls for such an action.
 
In addition to this, God knows that I will do a certain thing by my own free will. Since the knowledge of God does not fail, my action has to be a free action caused by my free will. Should my action prove to be a product of compulsion, the knowledge of God would fail. The knowledge of God never fails; therefore, I will not fail to make my own decision, by my own free will.
 
Wilson: This discussion has made the issue entirely clear. The last point which you stated is very important. As a matter of fact, the last argument which I introduced confuses the knowledge of an event with its cause, but every event usually has its own cause. We know that God knows that every particular action of ours is to be the product of our own will. And since God has given us the power of choosing, our will must be a free product of that power. The knowledge of God will never fail. Therefore, we will not fail to have our actions as the products of our own free will.
 
When we subscribe to the doctrine of man's freedom, we will be consistent and safe from contradiction. The Doctrine of the Justice of God could not be reconciled with the Doctrine of Predestination. We cannot say that man's action is necessitated by God, unless we deny the Divine justice. Since we are not willing to give up the Doctrine of the Justice of God, nor are we willing to believe in contradiction, we have to deny, categorically, the Doctrine of Predestination.
 
End of Part I


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