Saturday, July 19, 2008

Part XIII: The Gospel According to Muhammad

In this thirteenth section of my presentation on Islam I want to address the question of what Muslims believe about the Gospel, for they do indeed believe in the Gospel--but the meaning attached to that word for Muslims is radically different than what it means for Christians.

First though I think it would be useful to outline what exactly Christians believe about the Gospel. We actually use the word in several different ways. Often we simply use it to refer to the four books in the New Testament that record the events and teachings of Jesus' life: they include things like miracles, healings, sermons, short sayings, genealogy, events surrounding his birth, crucifixion, resurrection and his commissioning of the Apostles to carry forth his preaching.

We also use it very generally to refer to the central proclamation of how all those events relate to us, namely that we can be reconciled to God through Jesus, and that we can receive forgiveness of sins in his name. Of course, the initial proclamation of Jesus was simply borrowed from his cousin John the Baptist: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand! But the focus on the Kingdom of God for various reasons is not used by our churches today. Rather, different Christian churches emphasize different ways of articulating the Gospel (atoning sacrifice, adoption as sons, sharers in his divinity, and so on), but the message always revolves around or centrally features the forgiveness of sins in and through Jesus.

But as to Muslims: the word Gospel in Arabic is injiil, which is actually derived (via Syriac) from the original Greek word found in the New Testament: euangelion. Muslims reject what we call the injiil because it does not match their criteria for a prophetic message. In Islamic though there is no cooperation between the prophet and God as we find in Judaism and Christianity. In the latter two religions the prophet is inspired by God's Spirit but nevertheless puts the message into his own words, using his own expressions, talents, backgrounds, phrases, and so on. This is also true for the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) of the New Testament.

In Islam God causes a message to descend from heaven, via an angel, to his prophet, who then utters verbatim the dictation he has received from the angelic mediator. (The exception to this is Moses/Musa whom the Quran says spoke to God face to face, as to a friend.) Thus the Quran teaches that God caused the injiil to descend to Jesus/Issa. This is clearly not the picture that we find recorded by the four Gospel-writers of the New Testament. They are simply giving their recollections of Jesus' ministry, and who can say if they are even trustworthy? Thus the true Gospel was revealed by Jesus who was a good Muslim prophet, as were interestingly his disciples, according to the Quran. Jesus was not crucified, but he was taken back into heaven by God with his revelation--the injiil. Thus the true Gospel/injiil is in heaven with God, preserved by him there. It is certainly nowhere present on earth, and the best that one may hope is that parts or portions of it continue to exist in the four Gospels. They are, though, generally judged by Muslims today to be untrustworthy and not worth reading.

Such is the general explanation given by Muslims today, but the questions that this explanation provokes are numerous: why would God send Jesus, begotten of a virgin, working great miracles, who ascends into heaven, and not protect his message from corruption? This is, I think, a difficult question for Muslims to answer. A few have agreed that the four Gospels of the NT are valid, but by and large that is a minority position. One seems to end up with a weak God who is unable to safeguard his revelation to his prophets from corruption (tahriif) by nefarious Christians. Or with a God who allows centuries of pre-Muslim Christians to believe in a counterfeit injiil for no good reason. For Muslims do teach that pre-Islamic Christians could be true believers for they were living within the light that had been revealed to them--but according to this account that light was in fact darkness.

Some also propose that the true injiil was preserved, but that it was later (after Jesus' ascension) corrupted, but where is the manuscript or historical evidence of this? Extensive parts of the New Testament had spread through three continents in more than four or five different languages by the third century. When and where and how did this corruption of the Gospel happen? Who did it? There is no historical evidence for this position at all.

Such is the account of the Gospel according to Muhammad: it is hidden and unknown, its prophet great and worthy, but his message unknown to us today.

Salaam min al Rab ma3kum. Peace from the Lord be with you.

Abu Daoud


No_Angel said...

interesting i haven't stumbled over this blog before. (since you asked more questions than answered i'll try to answer them really quick)
in islam there is a messenger and a prophet and the simple answer to those questions of urs regarding the new testemant is that its not one of the holly books and its just a reminder of the old testaments teachings.
The existence of the text is not the requirement for it to be a holy book (where is the zaboor for instance). then again the rejection of the Muslims of previous messengers as having an incomplete message is not unique, for the Christians do it with the jews, don't they ? It's not just the claim about the authenticity of the text, its the claim about the righteousness of the creed taken as an evolutionary time line of human acceptance to the teachings.
(on the other hand when you want to ascribe something to mohammed and what he said it would be appreciated to actually give a reference to where it occurred because it was never mentioned, as far as i can recollect, that the true injil is in heaven with issa neither in the koran or hadith)

Abu Daoud said...

Hi No Angel,

The Zaboor is in the Bible, it is called the Pslams in English and Mazamiir in Arabic.

Thank you for the comments. If you are interested in further conversation e-mail me at winterlightning [a+] safe-mail [D0T] net.

You are entirely right about the injiil not being in heaven, it is here with us and you can read it in the New Testament (al ahd al jadiid). Why don't Muslims believe in what the Quran says? Clearly the injiil and Taura are not corrupted at all.

If Muslims were true Muslims, they would believe in all the prophets, and not just Muhammad. If they believed in all the prophets they would read their books. We do believe in progressive revelation, which is why the Hebrew prophets, though they did not understand everything, are in our Bible. This is not the case with Muslims.

No_Angel said...

(for the record i did read the bible ) regarding the zaboor, the book that was bestowed on david, since they were transcribed about 6th century BC (about 500 years after the geneology timeline) and its generally accepted that multiple authours wrote the psalms its hard to figure out where is the zaboor i raised that issue you up since its a similar issue when it comes to the new testament (multiple authors) while the quran had one author (albeit they are 7 books) and they believe in the generally most of the prophets and the stories are pretty much the same. (i said mostly and pretty much since there is dispute on some prophets (john) and some stories are G rated instead of R rated )
you here raise an interesting phrase "true muslims" and i always wonder whats the definition of that phrase and from which point of view so i would be interested in asking you to answer that before i tackle that bit.
and it would be nice if you want to correspond through email if ur like mine is moebi11(+)yahoo(+)com just pick a topic and we'll stick to it

Abu Daoud said...

No Angel:

Good points. If you want to know the psalms of David find the ones that say at the beginning of the psalm "Of David".

I should explain that we Christians do not have the similar theory of tanziil like you Muslims. What makes a Scripture divine for us is that it is inspired by ruuh allah, by the Spirit of God. Rather than Allah simply sending down a signs (ayat) ready made, his spirit works with and in the spirits of his servants, that is why the kind of writing you have in the Bible is different than what you have in the Quran.

We do have a doctrine about the tanziil (sending down) of kalimat ullah (the Word of God). For Muslims is results in a book, which one can close and put on a shelf and disregard if they like. But we who live in the Kingdom of Allah believe that when his word was sent down "he was made flesh and dwelt among".

All praise be to Allah, most high and most wise, who in his love and compassion does not send down a mute book which only those who know Arabic can read, but a living, breathing Kalima and a spirit from him.

This is the right path and blessed are those who walk upon it.