Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

A COMMON WORD

By Samuel Green

INTRODUCTION

Say (Muslims), O people of the book (Christians), let us come to a common word between us and you, that we will worship none but God and not associate with him anything and not take from amongst ourselves lords besides God. And if they (the Christians) turn away then confess, “we have submitted (are Muslims)”. (Qur’an 3:64)

In 2007, 138 Islamic scholars issued an open letter called, A Common Word. The letter is based on the Qur’anic verse 3:64 which is a call to Christians to worship God alone and associate nothing with him. The committee of A Common Word has phrased this letter in language they hope will resonate with Christians - love. They are asking Christians to agree to  love God alone and to love our neighbour. By loving God alone they mean to not associate anything with God but instead to maintain a clear distinction between God and man. We are to love God as God alone, and man as our neighbour alone. We are not to love God as the man Jesus Christ. The letter provides evidence from the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the Qur’an and Hadith to show that this definition of love is consistent with both religions.

The website for A Common Word (www.acommonword.com) has the letter in several languages and the invitation for Christian and Jewish organisations to respond. There is a section on the site where 71 Christian responses to date have been posted.

The responses vary. All of them praise the committee of A Common Word for this initiative saying that this type of dialogue is essential. Some went further and said that they agreed that we should worship God alone and associate nothing with him and love our neighbour. Some went further still and said that we agree that we must worship God alone but we see Jesus as God, and we are not really convinced that the Qur’an and Hadith says to love your non-Muslim neighbour.

It is encouraging to see that some of the responses are careful to defend the divinity of Jesus and challenge Islam about its love of neighbour, but in this article I wish to raise another issue that needs to be included in our response to A Common Word. This issue is to challenge the assumption that Islam worships God alone and associates nothing with him.

TAWHEED AND SHIRK

Justification, sanctification, atonement, etc. — Christians use technical words so they can carefully define what they believe. The same is true in Islam, and two important words for Islam are “tawheed” and “shirk”.

Tawheed means to unify and maintain the unity of God in every area of life. It is the driving force of the Qur’an, the basis of Islamic theology, worship and governance. It is the passion of Islam in the same way the gospel is the passion of Christianity. Tawheed is the assurance of Muslims that they are right and everyone else wrong. It is the pride of Islam.

Shirk means to associate or share and is the breaking of tawheed by associating something with God. It is more than polytheism or idolatry; it can include democracy as this is to associate the laws of man in a place where there should only be the law of God. Another example is holiness. Holiness in Islam is not based on the image of God and “be holy as I am holy”; this version of holiness is shirk to Islam. Instead, holiness in Islam is based on tawheed - not associating anything with God in any area of life. Shirk is the most serious sin in Islam.

These concepts come from verses in the Qur’an like 3:64 and 9:31 where Muslims are commanded to worship God alone, to associate nothing with him, nor to take humans as lords beside God.

It is this understanding of the application of monotheism that is at the heart of A Common Word. Christians are urged to not associate Jesus with God. One reply to this is to explain the unity of the Trinity and demonstrate how the unity of God is maintained. Another response is to question the position Muhammad himself has in Islam, for Muhammad is associated with God in every area of Islam.

MORE THAN A PROPHET

In Islam Muhammad is only a man, but not just any man; he is a messenger from God; the final prophet - but more, he is sinless and the perfect model for mankind. Any definition of Islam that excludes Muhammad is a false definition. But he is more than this; his life is the context of the Qur’an. The Qur’an revolves and evolves around his life.

The Prophet is closer to the believers than their selves, and his wives are (as) their mothers. ... (Qur’an 33:6, Pickthall)

Narrated Anas: The Prophet said "None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 1, bk 2, no. 14, Khan)

You need to feel this passion and love for Muhammad to understand Islam; but Muhammad is even more than this. Even though he is just a man he is associated with God at every point in the Islamic religion.

A. Muhammad is associated with God in the Shahada, the Islamic confession of faith.

“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

To be a Muslim and enter paradise you must confess Muhammad with God. Compare this to the Shema of Moses where God alone is confessed.

Here, O Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart ... (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, NIV)

The Christian confession is of God alone too with no requirement to confess Moses, Paul or anyone else but Muhammad is associated with God in the Shahada.

B. Muhammad is associated with God in prayer (Salaat). The Salaat is the Islamic prayer ritual prayed five times a day. Even though Muhammad is dead he is addressed in this prayer.

Greetings to you (As Salaamu 'alaika ), O Prophet, and the mercy and blessings of Allah.

Prayer should be to God alone (tawheed).

And the places of worship are only for Allah, so pray not unto anyone along with Allah. (Qur'an 72:18, Pickthall)

And who is further astray than those who, instead of Allah, pray unto such as hear not their prayer until the Day of Resurrection, and are unconscious of their prayer. (Qur'an 46:5, Pickthall)

Christian prayer is to God alone but the Salaat is shirk.

C. Muhammad is associated with God in location. Mosques are to be places of worship to God alone (tawheed). For this reason no one is ever to be buried inside a mosque; nor are mosques to be erected over graves. This would be to associate a person with a space that is for God alone.

And the places of worship are only for Allah, so pray not unto anyone along with Allah. (Qur’an 72:18, Pickthall)

Narrated 'Aisha and 'Abdullah bin 'Abbas: When the last moment of the life of Allah's Apostle came he started putting his 'Khamisa' on his face and when he felt hot and short of breath he took it off his face and said, "May Allah curse the Jews and Christians for they built the places of worship at the graves of their Prophets." The Prophet was warning (Muslims) of what those had done.  (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 1, bk. 8, no. 427, Khan)

Yet, Muhammad’s grave is inside the mosque in Medina. The mosque in Medina is a major place of pilgrimage for devout Muslims and yet it is shirk.

D. Muhammad is associated with God in love and forgiveness. Love and forgiveness in Islam do not come from God alone to us (tawheed), instead they are through Muhammad (shirk).

Say, (O Muhammad, to mankind): If you love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Qur’an 3:31, Pickthall)

E. Muhammad is associated with God in blessing. The idea of relics giving God’s blessing is shirk because the power of God would be associated with his creation in some way. However, Muhammad gave out the relics of his hair as a blessing to others.

Abu Bakr reported: (He called for) the barber and, pointing towards the right side of his head, said: (Start from) here, and then distributed his hair among those who were near him. He then pointed to the barber (to shave) the left side and he shaved it, and he gave (this hair) to Umm Sulaim (Allah be pleased with her). ... (Sahih Muslim: bk. 7, no. 2992, Siddique)

F. Muhammad is associated with God in salvation. Salvation in Islam does not come from God alone to us (tawheed), instead it is through Muhammad (shirk).

Narrated Ibn Umar: On the Day of Resurrection the people will fall on their knees and every nation will follow their prophet and they will say, "O so-and-so! Intercede (for us with Allah), "till (the right) intercession is given to the Prophet (Muhammad) and that will be the day when Allah will raise him into a station of praise and glory (i.e. Al-Maqam -al-Mahmud). (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 60, no. 242, Khan)

O Prophet! ... accept their allegiance and ask Allah to forgive them. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Qu’ran 60:12, Pickthall)

G. Muhammad practised shirk. In the Law of Moses and the Prophets it is very clear that we are not to use sacred stones as part of our worship.

Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 26:1, NIV)

The worship of stones was a part of the pre-Islamic culture.

Narrated Abu Raja Al-Utaridi: We used to worship stones, and when we found a better stone than the first one, we would throw the first one and take the latter, but if we could not get a stone then we would collect some earth (i.e. soil) and then bring a sheep and milk that sheep over it, and perform the Tawaf around it. ... (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 5, bk. 59, no. 661, Khan)

Yet, Muhammad continued this pre-Islamic practice with the Black Stone.

Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Daw'ud reported that 'Umar approached the Black Stone and kissed it. Then he said: "I know that you are a mere stone that can neither harm nor do any good. If I had not seen the Prophet (peace be upon him) kissing you, I would have never kissed you." Al-Khatabi said: "This shows that abiding by the Sunnah (custom) of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is binding, regardless of whether or not we understand its reason or the wisdom behind it." Such information devolves obligation on all those whom it reaches, even if they may not fully comprehend its significance. It is known, however, that kissing the Black Stone signifies respect for it, recognition of our obligation toward it, and using it as a means of seeking Allah's blessings. (As-Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh us-Sunnah (Hajj and `Umrah), Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1992, vol.5, p. 75.)

All Muslims today must continue this idolatrous practice when they go on pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, even though it is such obvious shirk. Why must they do it? Because Muhammad did it.

CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM DIALOGUE

Do not be fooled when Islam puts itself forward as the bastion of monotheism. Muhammad is the patron saint of Islam and is associated with God at every point. His presence in Islam is so strong that even obvious idolatrous practices like kissing the Black Stone become acceptable. Muhammad is exalted in Islam in a way that is completely unacceptable for someone who claims to be just a man.

Christians may feel tempted to see the Trinity as a weak point in Christian-Muslim dialogue when compared to the “simple clarity” of tawheed, but this is not the case. The Trinity actually provides the unity of God in every act of worship in a way that Islam fails to do. Muslims have been quick to ask Christians about the Trinity; it is time we ask them about tawheed and Muhammad.

The open letter from A Common Word is to be welcomed and engaged with. It is a historic opportunity to publicly dialogue with Muslim theologians. It is a great opportunity to proclaim and defend the person of Christ, to question Islam about its love for its non-Muslim neighbour, and to challenge Islam about the way it associates Muhammad with God.


Further reading: Responses to “A Common Word”