My Questions to Muslims

Historical Reality

   Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member 
   of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, 
   "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no 
   one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were 
   not with him." ....
   "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand 
   these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and 
   we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept 
   our testimony. 
                I have spoken to you of earthly things 
                                   and you do not believe; 
                                   how then will you believe 
                if I speak of heavenly things?  
                            --  Gospel according to John 3:1,2,11,12

Perhaps the most substantial question I have towards Islam is its seemingly blatant disregard for historical reality.

There are several issues in this area, but the biggest one is, that Muhammad comes along 600 years after the event of the Crucifixion and just declares this event to be a "non-event".

The crucifixion is arguably the best documented fact of history in the time of antiquity. There are to my knowledge no serious scholars of history who doubt this. The resistance is against the Resurrection but the Crucifixion is basically uncontested. In this short article I obviously cannot present the comprehensive proof for this. My recommendation for the serious inquirer is the book by

This book examines over 10 non-Christian historical documents mentioning the event of the crucifixion and also the Biblical historical sources. The whole of the Biblical message is based on the historical reality of crucifixion and resurrection so much that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

The Apostle Paul states in no uncertain terms, that all of Christianity crumbles and is nonsense if the resurrection never happened. And, for sure, if no death, then no resurrection, but since the death of Jesus was not questioned, Paul did not have to discuss it here in any detail. But he mentioned earlier on in his letter that the center of his message is "Christ as the crucified one" (1 Cor 2:2).

Yet Islam thinks it just can disregard all that and declare it a figment of imagination, an illusion.

This article is rather long, so let me give at this point a summary of my argument. According to all standards and methods of scholarship in the field of historical research the following are facts:

  1. Jesus was crucified (see above)
  2. The early Christians not only believed the Crucifixion and Resurrection and testified to it as eye-witnesses but made these events the very center of their message.
  3. The early Christians put a strong emphasis on the necessity that these accounts are historical to be of any meaning. They knew and stressed the difference between history and fables.

One might disagree whether they were correct in their belief but it is unquestionable that this was their belief, message and emphasis.

And the problem for Islam is not only to deny the first of these points but that in denying the first it makes nonsense of the others as well. Taking away the crucifixion and resurrection there is then no explanation for the reality of the faith of the early Church. It would be similar to suggest that Muhammad never lived. This would create more questions than it would solve. Where did Islam come from if Muhammad was never a reality? Why would the "companions" believe in the prophethood of a man that didn't exist and fight for it? This would leave the origin of Islam hanging over empty space. This would be illogical. In the same way, the denial of the Crucifixion and Resurrection leaves the reality of the early Church hanging unexplained in history.

For claim 1. I have given above a reference to an up-to-date scholarly book. In the following I want provide the evidence for my statements under 2. and 3.

In Biblical understanding there cannot be any basis for faith, if God never really intervened in history. A set of "ideas" or "rules" (commandments) could be invented by anybody. How do we know they are from God? It is always God who takes the initiative, who proves himself to be real, and then invites us to respond. This is the pattern throughout scripture. Biblical faith is "historical faith".

For example, God ties His Ten Commandments to a historic event:

It is the historical act by the hand of God in which the people are liberated from slavery and it is this intervention of God which is the basis on which God calls them to worship him as their God and liberator.

In this same pattern it is the historical (f)act of the death of Jesus on the cross, being an atoning death for sin because of who it was on this cross, which is the basis for calling us to worship Jesus as the one who took away our sins, and liberated us from the bondage of sin.

Assurance for a hope beyond the grave, depends entirely on the historical event of Jesus' Resurrection from the dead. If he hadn't risen from the dead in real space and time of history, why would we have reason to believe his promises about our resurrection?

In this way, most Biblical doctrines are connected to historical events, to reality, because that gives the confidence that God is true to his word. The foundation of all of Biblical faith is that God has acted in history and because He has shown Himself trustworthy in His promises before, therefore we can trust Him in the promises He made for the future.

[What is Islam basing its hope on? Do Muslims just believe because God (?) says so without first proving Himself trustworthy? Or even giving evidence for his very existence for that matter? How do you know it was God in the first place who said these things you believe in?]

One of the tests for the truth of the Bible is that we can prove that most of the Biblical events can be verified from secular history and archeology. Nearly every year there are new discoveries which confirm again and again the truth of the Biblical reports. Sure, there are still a few unverified events, but to my knowledge none which has conclusively shown that the event reported in the Bible is contrary to our secular archeological and historical knowledge.

But the following is what God himself declares to be His proof:

Isaiah 42: 

8    "I am the LORD; that is my name! 
      I will not give my glory to another 
                  or my praise to idols. 
9    See, the former things have taken place, 
             and new things I declare;
     before they spring into being 
             I announce them to you."

And even clearer in Isaiah 48:

1    "Listen to this, ... 
3    I foretold the former things long ago, 
     my mouth announced them and I made them known; 
             then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. 
4    For I knew how stubborn you were; 
     the sinews of your neck were iron, your forehead was bronze. 
5    Therefore I told you these things long ago; 
     before they happened I announced them to you 
     so that you could not say, 
     `My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.' 
6    You have heard these things; look at them all. 
     Will you not admit them?
     "From now on I will tell you of new things, 
      of hidden things unknown to you. 
7 They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, `Yes, I knew of them.'

14 "Come together, all of you, and listen: Which of [the idols] has foretold these things?

And there are several more passages similar to this where God asks us to test him if he is not going to do what he announces. That is THE proof and decisive difference between the idols and the true God.

The Qur'an in the contrary seemingly expects to be believed without evidence that it is God who has given it.

At least no hard evidence. Provable evidence, not something 'arbitrarily subjective' like the eloquence of the Qur'an which no non-Arabic speaker can verify for himself, and which not even native Arabs agree upon.

In Islam it is claimed that the same God of the earlier prophets also spoke through Muhammad, yet he seems to not only no longer give any evidence to his prophet's claims, but even worse Islam seems to be disregarding historical facts, and demands that we believe Muhammad's pronouncements for our eternal destination even though we can't even trust it in its "earthly" statements about history.

Jesus says to Nicodemus: how will you believe me if I tell you of heavenly things if you don't even believe me for earthly ones?

Indeed, how can I? Not in regard to Jesus or the Bible which give us lots of facts to check and they hold up to scrutiny, but how can I believe the Qur'an and Muhammad?

Realizing that the Qur'an gets the facts wrong that we know, (see the above book on Jesus, particularly the crucifixion, but also a number of issues in the later articles), how can I believe this book in those parts which necessarily have to be in the realm of faith because they are still in the future like the way God will decide on heaven or hell for us on Judgement Day, and things that are 'by principle' not possible to be tested like the nature of God?

Ten days after the ascension, 50 days after the resurrection, Peter, the leader of the Apostles who has been with Jesus for 3 years, preaches on the crucifixion and resurrection (Acts 2).

In Acts 1 it is made clear that to be an Apostle one must have been with him from the beginning and be an eyewitness of his resurrection to make sure everything is based on first hand knowledge and not on imagination and hearsay. That is the basis for the election of the twelvth apostle to replace Judas the traitor.

Also later, when the Apostle Paul is called by Jesus himself, it is important that Paul is a witness of the living risen Christ, who met him (in a vision) on the Damascus road and commissioned him to be a messenger. But still, this is "not enough". Paul also meets with the leaders of the Apostles and gets their approval for his mission and message which he is going to take to the gentiles, so that all can be sure, it is the one and true Gospel that is preached by all Apostles equally.

The early Church took great pains to make sure their faith was based on solid historical truth. They exposed heresy as soon as it came up from some people. All this is very clear from the records we have.

The Apostle Peter says (in 2 Peter 1):

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.
I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body,
because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.
And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

The Apostles took great pain to make sure that their followers are firmly established in the truth and the true teaching was repeated and rehearsed over and over again. And it is formost on his mind that the Christians KNOW that all this was not invented stories [fables] but that all of it is based on their personal eyewitness account of Jesus life [and death and resurrection].

The Apostle John writes (in 1 John 1):

That which was from the beginning,
which WE have HEARD,
which WE have SEEN with our eyes,
which WE have LOOKED AT
and our hands have TOUCHED --
this WE proclaim concerning the Word of life.
The life appeared;
WE have SEEN it
and testify to it,
and we proclaim to you the eternal life,
which was with the Father and has APPEARED to US.
We proclaim to you
what WE have SEEN
and HEARD, ...

Can we miss the emphasis John puts on the fact that they [the Apostles] have intimate first hand knowledge? "Heard, ... seen, ... touched, ..."

And also the Apostle Paul, much maligned by the Muslims, stresses exactly the same point (in 1 Corinthians 15):

1    Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel 
     I preached to you, 
     which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
2    By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word 
     I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 
     that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4    that he was buried, 
     that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

5    and that he appeared to Peter, 
                 and then to the Twelve.
6    After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 
     at the same time, most of whom are still living, 
     though some have fallen asleep.
7    Then he appeared to James, 
     then to all the apostles,
8    and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9    For I am the least of the apostles 
     and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, 
     because I persecuted the church of God.

10   But by the grace of God I am what I am, 
        and his grace to me was not without effect. 
        No, I worked harder than all of them --
     yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
11   Whether, then, it was I or they, 
        this is what we preach, 
        and this is what you believed.

If anybody would change the gospel - that would make the faith invalid, then believing would be in vain (verse 2). It is important that it is the exact gospel. And this was a gospel which Paul has not "invented himself" but he has received it (verse 3) and only passed it on faithfully. And what is this gospel? Verses 3 and 4 give the summary. It is Jesus' death for our sins, and that he was raised from the dead. And not just the "event in itself" but it was of uttermost importance that these events are according to the Scriptures. Why? Because that is what we have already read above. That is how God authenticates. He gives prophecy for all major acts he does. He announces them beforehand so that nobody will mistake God's acts for anything else.

God announced it [in the Scriptures through the earlier prophets] and he brought it to pass. But we do not only believe it because it is predicted. Anybody can claim that something that is predicted has happened. How do we know? Because we do have many eyewitnesses who stand for this truth. Over 500 people who have witnessed the risen Christ are ready to be questioned. Most of them still alive at the time Paul writes this letter (about 55 A.D. = 25 years after the resurrection). This is an absolute solid case. At least 250 eyewitnesses are available. Some of which were not even believers in Jesus before he appeared to them [James, the brother of Jesus for example].

And, this is not just what Paul preaches, it is the exact same thing that all the other apostles also preach (verse 11).

Whether you believe the meaning of the Crucifixion or not, the historical evidence for the event of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection is rock solid.

And then, Muhammad comes along and just claims: It never happened. And he thinks, no explanation necessary. You just believe. And if not, if you have doubts, then you are just of those who have no knowledge (Qur'an 4:157).

Historical fact is the basis of Christian faith. My impression is that Islam goes the other way around. History is defined to be what the 'sacred texts' say, no matter what the factual evidence says.

My impression is that many Muslims seem to happily "just" believe it when the Qur'an says that Jesus was not crucified, that he didn't die, and that he (consequently) didn't rise from the dead. Historical evidence? Who cares!

In addition, I see the problem that the Qur'an says that the disciples of Jesus were sincere and truthful [helpers of Allah and Muslims] but that they on the other hand have clearly preached the death and resurrection of Jesus for the atonement of sin. For this there is as well lots of absolutely solid evidence and on the other hand there is no evidence at all for the Qur'anic ideas about the disciples of Christ. No doubt, the central message of the first followers of Christ was his crucifixion and resurrection.

How then do we judge the truth of the Qur'an?

What can be valid criteria to find out whether the Qur'an is right? Where is the God-given proof for its truth? And if there is no "objective" proof (at least as strong as the historical evidence for early Christianity), then how do we know it was God? God has so far always given evidence enough to show the authentication of his messages. This is the hallmark of all Biblical revelation.

Based on these observations, entrusting myself to Islam would be blind faith for me. It would be faith against evidence. I cannot do that. From the earlier prophets I see that God has never expected blind faith in his message. Especially since we are warned over and over again against false prophets and teachers. Why would God change his methods without warning or announcements? God is unchanging.

More on Contradictions between the Qur'an and History.

Copyright 1997 Jochen Katz. All rights reserved.

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