Unity, Ummah and Peace
A large billboard in Durban reads, “One Qur'an, One Nation, One Future.” Muslims feel optimistic about the future because so many non-Muslims are converting ('reverting') to Islam. Imams are seeking to rally people under the banner of Islam by forecasting this trend will become a tidal wave, culminating in a golden age where Islam attains world dominance. Their vision is in tune with Muslim writings which predict a Muslim empire spanning the globe under the rule of two heroic figures, Mahdi and Isa (i.e. Jesus).
However, God-fearing people should use discernment. Rather than seeing things from a shallow, human viewpoint, they ought to look at such trends from God's perspective. A wise person will ask himself, “Did the prophets say the whole world will turn to God and become friendly to those who follow him?”
Scripture says that a majority reject God. Jesus taught, “You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13,14)
Not only do ungodly people reject believers, they hate them and persecute them. Jesus forewarned his followers, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first... Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. They will do all this to you because of me … they [worldly people] have seen everything I did, yet they still hate me and my Father.” (John 15:18,20,21,24) As it was in the past, when people persecuted the prophets, so it is true now, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) In fact persecution doesn't seem to be lessening as the global community becomes more aware and tolerant of different cultures. The Bible foretells persecution will persist to the end times. (Revelation 12:17 - 13:10)
Are you among those who've been inspired by a rosy picture of a resurgent Islam? Are you awed by preachers forecasting Islam will soon become the dominant world religion in the world? If you understand these trends or maybe you even resonate with the feelings I described, then allow me to give you a word of caution: Bear in mind that Christians are increasingly being persecuted around the world, especially in nations that are predominantly Muslim.1 This trend has been especially observable since the new millenium.
Not only so, there is food for thought in the billboard cited earlier which envisions, “One Qur'an, one nation, one future.” Think about these words, particularly the word “one” which is repeated three times.
Of course, Muslims believe in God's oneness but they also emphasize communal oneness, i.e. unity of the Ummah – the community of believers. Muslim friends describe in glowing terms the wonderful sense of unity they feel during Hajj as they see millions of Muslims, rich and poor, prince and pauper, all wearing simple clothing, praying in unison and circling the Kaaba together.
There is no doubt that oneness, brotherly love and peace are important. Followers of many other religions value these principles. Indeed, these values are virtually intuitive and universal.
Interestingly, Jesus Christ taught these same virtues, emphasizing how they give evidence or proof that he was sent by God. Notice how Jesus prayed; “that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe that you sent me... May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them...” (John 17:21,23)
Whenever Christians display disunity it puts a stumbling block in the way of unbelievers, causing them to doubt that Jesus came from God. In fact, whenever a believer commits gross sin it causes ungodly people to blaspheme the name of the Lord! (Romans 2:24; 2 Samuel 12:14)
The question arises, however, “Does the criterion or test of unity in community also apply to other religious communities … including Muslims?” Undoubtedly it does, especially since Muslims agree with such a principle, indeed, they would accept this was part of the teachings of the prophet Isa.
Lately there has been an avalanche of news stories showing infighting and civil war among Muslims in half a dozen Islamic nations. What does all this mean? Surely something is amiss because this is not in keeping with a unified Ummah! One way of explaining such divisions is to say that certain sections or factions of the Ummah are phony. They aren't genuine. But how can one distinguish a real Muslim from a hypocrite? How can one distinguish a real Christian from those who are not genuine?
I am reminded of how Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets … You can identify them by their fruit, that is by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? … Not everyone who calls out to me Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgement day many will say, 'Lord, Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name …' But I will reply, 'I never knew you. Get away from me you who break God's laws.” (Matthew 7:15-16, 21-23)
In light of this principle, God-fearing Muslims are asking soul searching questions. For example; Is Bashar al Asad (leader of Syria) a true Muslim? What about Sadam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi? Indeed, was Osama Bin Laden a true Muslim?
One might hesitate to slur Islam by pointing a finger at politicians who by nature are prone to corruption.2 Therefore, we will ask these questions of religious leaders. “Are the ulama and religious leaders genuine Muslims?” We could ask whether Ahmed Deedat, the notorious debater, was a genuine Muslim. He ridiculed the writings of the prophets as recorded in the Bible and was given a public warning, but being a proud man, he stubbornly resisted correction. His downfall shows he was humbled by God. If he had not persisted in mocking God's Word, I don't believe he would have ended his life as he did. As it is written “God is not mocked.” (Galatians 6:7, NKJV)
We might look at Yusuf Ismail, who seems to have inherited Deedat's mantle at the Islamic Propagation Centre International. We could ask, “Is he a true Muslim?” On the surface, he seems to be Muslim. He says he believes all the prophets, but does he? On closer examination, one finds Ismail doesn't really accept what is written in the prophets. For example, he rejects the Divine attribute Savior, likening it to poison.
Certainly there are many praiseworthy attributes of God recorded in the writings of the prophets, but this particular trait, Savior, is prominent. The prophets stood in awe of God's power to save. They showed repeatedly how it stands in sharp contrast to lifeless, powerless idols – so-called gods who cannot save. The title Savior is emphasized because it distinguishes the one true God from false gods! You can read more about exactly how Yusuf Ismail attacks this beautiful name of God in “From Poison Save Us”.
Unity and Peace
As important as it is to look at unity we also need to think about peace. According to Scripture there is a close connection between unity and peace, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father ...” (Ephesians 4:2-5; bold added for emphasis)
We read other passages of Scripture that urge us to lead peaceful lives, “If you … understand God's ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don't cover up the truth with boasting and lying... Such things are earthly, unspiritual and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peaceloving, gentle at all times and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds... And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. What is causing quarrels and fights among you? Don't they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it... Don't you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? … So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (James 3:13-18; 4:1,2,4,7; bold added for emphasis)
A Peaceful World?
From the time of Cain and Abel, the human race has experienced hatred, divisiveness and bloodshed. It seems that every generation has longed for the day when peace and justice will prevail across the world. Indeed, the Old Testament prophets predicted that God's Messiah, 'the Prince of Peace' will usher in such a kingdom. “His government and its peace will never end.” (Isaiah 9:6,7) The New Testament confirms that Messiah's “Kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:33) Interestingly, Muslim tradition gives more than a hint of such an idyllic era (though it says the Messiah's peaceful reign will last for only 7 years??). In the Hadiths one finds occasional glimpses – uncanny similarities – echoing biblical prophecies in Isaiah 11. For example, they teach 1) that Al Maseeh will rule over the whole world, 2) the wolf and the lamb will live peacefully together, and 3) children will play with snakes without being harmed! (Mufti Mohammad Shafi in ‘Signs of Qiyamah and the Arrival of the Maseeh’, pp. 38,78, see quotes by Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah, Hadith #13)
Another prophet who confirmed the coming of a great peacemaker-King was Micah. He identified the birth place of this prominent person, saying, “a ruler of Israel will come from you [i.e. Bethlehem] one whose origins are from the distant past. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD'S strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace.” (Micah 5:2-5, bold added for emphasis)
After several hundred years the Messiah was born of a virgin in Bethlehem - as predicted. When he grew to manhood, Jesus said many things about peace. I don't intend to explain these sayings in this short article. I just want to focus on one prophecy about peace which Jesus spoke a few days before he was put on trial and sentenced to die. Please don't skim over these words. Take the time to carefully read the preceding paragraph so you can understand the meaning behind Christ's enigmatic words, “peace is hidden from your eyes.” Since Jesus was a prophet, it comes as no surprise that he accurately predicted the judgement that would befall the Jews as a result of their rejecting him as their Messiah-King.
I trust that as you read the context you'll understand the tragic implications behind Christ's sober statement, “I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on your from every side... because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.” (Luke 19:42-44) Let me repeat: My aim in this article is not to give a detailed explanation. You can find a full discussion in the article, Converging Destinies: Jerusalem, Peace and the Messiah.
When will peace come?
The prophet Zechariah provided a clue to better understand how peace will come. He foretold that the Israelites will eventually realize how wrong they have been for rejecting and killing their Messiah. “They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a first born son who has died.” (Zechariah 12:10)
Notice the contrast: On the one hand, Jesus said, “peace is hidden from their eyes.” On the other hand, Zechariah foretold, “they will look on me whom they have pierced.”
What do you think this prophecy means, “they will look on me whom they have pierced”? A careful reading of the context as seen in the preceding paragraphs reveals that the word 'me' refers to the LORD. In other words, the one whom they pierced is the LORD. The one who the Jews rejected for so long is, none other than their Messiah, the long awaited Rescuer and Redeemer!
The Bible clearly predicts that justice and peace will prevail on earth under the reign of God's Messiah. Although Muslim sources contain some remarkable similarities, we cannot overlook the startling differences. For example, the Hadiths state that the worldwide peaceful reign of Al Maseehu Isa (and Mahdi) will last for only 7 years whereas the Bible states Messiah's reign will last forever. The Hadith says that the Jews will be humiliated and annihilated by Muslim armies under the leadership of Al Maseeh. However, the Bible says the opposite: the Messiah will defend and save a remnant of truly repentant Israelites from the jaws of defeat. (Zechariah 12) Scripture says this dramatic rescue will happen in the last days when a massive alliance of nations attacks Israel. Instead of being defeated and humiliated, the Israelites will be honored and their capital city, Jerusalem will be exalted in the eyes of all nations. (Isaiah 2:1-4; Zechariah 14:12-16)
In conclusion let me point out another contradiction. Authoritative Muslim writings deny Christ's death on the cross whereas the Bible portrays the cross as the centre piece of God's peacemaking initiative – his plan to forgive sinners and reconcile the world to himself. We read in Ephesians 2:11-17 (cf. Colossians 1:20);
Don't forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel and you did not know the covenant promises God has made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us... He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. (bold added for emphasis)
Warning and Invitation
Muslims believe Islam is a religion of peace. Imams have noted with concern, the awful divisions and conflicts within the Ummah. In fact, they are holding out hope of unity under the banner of a renewed Caliphate. They believe this will ultimately pave way for the coming of Mahdi and Isa who will bring worldwide peace. Thoughtful readers should beware of this bait, as it contradicts Scripture. Not only so, this supposedly peaceful vision overlooks the civil wars in the 1st century of Islam – a bloody conflict that tore apart the veneer of unity in the early Ummah. This disunity in Islam has continued simmering and erupting in violence through the centuries until now. Look at current events and honestly ask yourself, “Does the Ummah show unity and peace?”
Have you read the Torah and the Zabur, the writings of the prophets? If not, I invite you to see for yourself how they foretold Messiah would bring peace. A good place to start would be to read a summary article by James Arlandson's, Jesus in Messianic Biblical Prophecies. PD Bramsen has also written a helpful booklet entitled, My Story. It unfolds the teachings of the prophets showing how they point to the Messiah/.
All biblical quotations are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.
You may contact me if you want to talk more about unity, peace and the Prince of Peace.