Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Should We Understand Islam?

I noticed yesterday that the hot dog vendor near my work was gone, and I asked him about it today.  He informed me that he's Muslim, and that he'd taken off yesterday to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, the “Festival of Breaking Fast.”

Like Judaism, Islam uses lunar calendars for months.  (By the way, this is why St. Paul refers to weeks and months as “Sabbaths” and “New Moons”  in Colossians 2:16 -- because the new moon separated month from month, just as the Sabbath separated week from week).  Yesterday celebrated the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which went from August 1st to the 30th.

Ramadan sounds pretty intense, not unlike the way Lent was (and in many parts of the Orthodox and Coptic world, is) celebrated:
During the month of Ramadan, adult Muslims engage in ritual fasting from sunup to sundown. This practice, Sawm, is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires that individuals abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse. Each evening, Muslims will break the fast at sundown with Iftar, a traditional meal often beginning with the eating of dates -- an homage to a practice of Muhammad.
Consider, then, my hot dog vendor.  For an entire month, he sat or stood in a cramped hot dog cart, making hot dogs for other people -- and being unable to eat even a bite of food all day.  And no matter how hot he got in his cart, or how much he sweated, he was unable to take even a drink.  Certainly, he could eat and drink when it got dark, and he was back home, but I imagine standing in the heat, over delicious-smelling food, that's a small solace.

Even on the toughest of days - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday - I've had the comfort of at least not working in a food cart, and being allowed plenty of hydration.  I was struck by this, and what a beautiful testament it was to the man's faith.  And it got me thinking about Islam, and how we understand that religion as Catholics.


Islam and the True God

The Catholic Church is clear that Islam teaches some faulty and outright false things about God, and that these threaten a man's ability to come to a saving faith, or to properly do the will of God.  But the Church is also clear that Islam believes false things about the true God, rather than believing things (true or false) about some other god.


To use an analogy: if  you worship Jesus, but think He's a catcher for the Yankees, you're probably worshiping a different Jesus.  So it's possible to follow after false gods -- the pagans worshiped demons (1 Corinthians 10:20), for example -- but it's also to follow after the true God with some false beliefs. So if you worship Jesus, but think He was a fisherman (instead of a carpenter), you probably just have a mistaken belief about the actual Jesus of Nazareth.


Similarly, Islam affirms the God of Abraham is the true God.  They are right in doing so, whatever other faults may exist.  Christians sometimes stumble over this: how can Muslims be worshiping the same God as us, when they claim He has no Son (Sura 19:35)?  The answer's easy: they're wrong about Him having no Son.  Likewise, Calvinists believe that God predestines some people to Hell.   Does that mean that they worship a separate god, one who actually does double-predestine?  Of course not.  They believe in the True God, they're just wrong that this True God predestines people for Hell.

Any time you're trying to follow the God of Abraham, you're trying to follow the true God.  He more or less says as much (Genesis 28:13).  You might do so imperfectly -- with serious, salvation-threatening errors about His Nature and His Will -- but that doesn't mean you're following someone else. And this is true whether you're Catohlic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, or Muslim. That doesn't mean that these are all equally good roads to God,or anything of the sort.  These groups aren't equally right, and many teach things which threaten your eternal salvation.  But like I've said, they're wrong about God, rather than being wrong (or right) about Ba'al, or Zeus, or Odin, or demons.

27 comments:

  1. Hi Joe, I believe you are correct insaying muslims worship the same God we do, they just have the wrong idea about Him. I've had this discussion with many of my Evangelical friends-I am Evangelical too- and many say it is not the same God because of how they describe Him and relate to Him. I usually respond that similarly then, the Jewish people have every right to say we don't worship the same God they do either because the Trinity does not describe their God. You can imagine the reason that follow as to why it's not the same thing.

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  2. Hey, Joe.

    In the Catholic schema would it be fair to say that Muslims have neither God nor Abraham as their father, not knowing Jesus or the Father, a la a goodly bit of John 8? I always have a hard time nailing down meanings of language like this (threatening salvation, and the like) in the CCC. Need to speak with someone face to face, probably. Thanks for the explanation.

    Narrow-mindedly,

    Drew Avery

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  3. Otsile,

    I'm glad we agree. I almost raised your point, but I've seen it have some crazy results amongst certain Evangelicals.

    For example, Joe Carter, whose work at First Things I ordinarily enjoy, has concluded (see his # 3 here) that Jews don't worship the God of Abraham.

    Carter's logic would seem to suggest that any Jew not aware of, and believing in, Jesus Christ doesn't really worship God.

    Since the Jews of the Old Testament weren't aware of the Trinity, this seems to suggest that even the faithful Jews of old weren't really faithful to God. Following this to the logical conclusion leads to something like Marcionism, which proclaimed one God of the Old Testament, and one God of the New Testament.

    Why can't it just be that we, as human sinners, sometimes say stupid and false things about the ever-True God? As St. Paul says, "Let God be true and every man a liar!" (Romans 3:4).

    God bless,

    Joe.

    P.S. By the way, if you (or anyone else) ever have a specific question about why Catholics believe a certain thing, don't hesitate to ask either here in the comments, or by e-mail: joseph[dot]heschmeyer[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  4. This post is so interesting, and it's a topic I have wondered about. Thanks for the clarity!

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  5. "I was struck by this, and what a beautiful testament it was to the man's faith"

    I had a similar experience.

    Last year, for the 40 Days For Life, I gave up meat. This was the first time I had ever done it and I found it a real sacrifice. I did this after observing my Muslim colleague during Ramadan. Never be outdone! ;-)


    "Any time you're trying to follow the God of Abraham, you're trying to follow the true God. He more or less says as much (Genesis 28:13)"

    I don't quite get how that passage supports your statement. Could you please clarify?

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  6. Leila, thanks!


    Drew,

    God is One: the Trinity is still One God. There's no way to divvy God up, such that you can follow One-Third or Two-Thirds of the Trinity, while renouncing the rest. This means two complimentary things: (A) To reject Jesus is to reject the Father, but also (B) To follow the Father is to follow Jesus.

    In a simple world, this would all be quite easy: people would know the truths the Gospel presents, and then would either accept or reject that package deal. But in real life, people often only hear or understand parts of the Gospel, often mixed with heresies and errors. So they end up accepting or rejecting a strange medley of things. They may be quite willing to follow God wherever He leads, but quite ignorant as to where He's urging them. It’s not always clear whether we’re looking at (A) or (B).

    John 8, however, does seem clear. The audience Jesus is speaking to is consciously and actively rejecting Jesus Christ directly. That’s (A) above: a knowing rejection of God the Son, which is a knowing rejection of God, period.

    Note well that Jesus doesn’t claim that they’re worshipping the devil when they think they’re worshipping God the Father. That’s how people often read this, but a careful reading will show that it’s wrong. Instead, He points to their lack of faith (John 8:45), and their lack of love (John 8:42). They know who the Father is (Jesus doesn’t dispute this), but actively disobey Him, just as the devil did.

    The situation in John 8 is quite different from, say, someone like the Jews in Egypt before Moses, who'd never heard of Jesus. They don't know Him in the sense we Christians do, but they followed Him nevertheless, because they followed the Father. That’s (B).

    A Muslim who hasn’t been exposed to the undiluted Gospel, or who never actively rejects God, but seeks to follow the God of Abraham in faith seems to fall in (B).

    That doesn’t mean that someone can be saved simply by being a good Muslim. Our acceptance or rejection of the Trinity is what matters, and so someone who consciously rejects the Trinity for the sake of Islam does so at peril of his soul.

    On the other hand, this does suggest that some Muslims will likely be saved by loving the Lord their God with all their heart, mind and soul, and their neighbor as themselves – even though they’re disastrously wrong on fundamental theology.

    God bless,

    Joe

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  7. Restless Pilgrim,

    I'm just saying that God self-identifies as the God of Abraham (there and elsewhere). So following the God of Abraham is exactly what the True God prescribes, since He's that God. Is there a better way I should be wording that?

    And your comment reminds me of what Peter Kreeft says about Islam: Muslims will convert to Christianity once they see Christians taking obedience to the God of Abraham more seriously than they do.

    In Christ,

    Joe

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  8. My 7th grade daughter has a Muslim friend at school that fasted this way. It's 116 here in Phoenix and she couldn't even drink water. I must admit I am very confused as to what spiritual purpose this (dangerous?) practice serves.

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  9. Christianity hinges upon the correct understanding of the second article of The Apostles Creed (Jesus).

    Muslims do not believe that Jesus was God in the flesh, nor do they believe that He died on the cross for our sins.

    Instead they pin their hopes on following the techings of Mohammed.

    If you want a real eye opener, read about the life of Mohammed. It's not pretty.

    Jesus came, born of a virgin. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, and forgave sins.

    What did Mohammed do?

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  10. Ah, okay, gotcha...no worries, I was just being thick.

    And has Peter Kreeft ever said anything that wasn't brilliant?!

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  11. Old Adam,

    This is one of those times you and I are in total agreement, in that:
    (1) Christ is infinitely superior to Muhammad. Of course, He's infinitely superior to everyone.
    (2) Muhammad wasn't a true prophet of God.
    (3) Christianity turns upon Christ.

    But does any of that negate the earlier point that Muslims worship the true God, the God of Abraham, even though they believe many false things about Him?

    In Christ,

    Joe

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  12. I don't think so, Joe.

    I think that Muslims deny the God of the Bible who reveals Himself in Christ incarnate in Jesus.

    I believe that if one denies Jesus, they are denying the Living God.

    As one theologian once said, "Apart from Jesus Christ, God might as well be the devil."


    As you rightly say, Joe, "it all turns on Jesus."

    I pray that He will have mercy on as many Muslims as He sees fit, and will bring them to Himself.

    Thanks, my friend.

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  13. Old Adam, do the Jews, who also deny Jesus Christ, worship the same God we Christians do?

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  14. Jews and Christians do not worship the same God.

    This is precisely why Jesus, Paul and the Church throughout history have continued to proclaim the true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to both Jew and Gentile.
    This is why Jesus, Paul, and the Church throughout history have proclaimed Jesus as the only mediator between God and man, the only name given among men by which we must be saved and the One Who said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one gets to the Father except through me."

    The problem with the Jews was NOT that they "merely" rejected Jesus while retaining the worship of the true God (which is impossible). The problem is that they rejected Jesus precisely BECAUSE they reject the true faith of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    Jesus says to them, If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me (John 5:46).

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  15. all i can say to that old adam is....WOW

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  16. @ old adam,

    Do Roman Catholics, Eastern/Christian Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants worship the same God?

    DJ|AMDG

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  17. @Joe H,

    You might be interested in Mirsolv Volf's work in Exclusion & Embrace. Also check out this interview where he specifically addresses the topic of your post through a discussion of his new book, Allah: A Christian Response. I haven't read A Christian Response, yet, but E & E was one of my favorite books during my MA studies.


    All the best,

    DJ|AMDG

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  18. Here's the article:

    http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Deeply-Unchristian-Patton-Dodd-08-29-2011.html

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  19. DJ/AMDG,

    great question....

    old adam?

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  20. There's ought be no "WOW".

    Jesus himself told the religious Jews that "they were from their father, the devil."

    God is the One who raised Jesus from the dead.

    If one has no faith in Jesus, he/she has no faith in God.

    Christ Jesus sends many away from Himself saying, "depart from me, I never knew you."

    Now that's a WOW.

    ....



    And yes, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants all believe that Jesus is God and that He died for their sins.

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  21. "And yes, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants all believe that Jesus is God and that He died for their sins."

    Maybe I'm being picky, but that's not quite the question that was asked. It was:

    "Do Roman Catholics, Eastern/Christian Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants worship the same God?"

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  22. And if I may add another question, what about Modalistd and Oneness Pentecostals? They "believe that Jesus is God and that He died for their sins," but claim that the Father is Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit is also Jesus. In other words, they reject the notion that God is Three distinct Persons. Do they worship the same God we do, or are there other criteria?

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  23. "Do Roman Catholics, Eastern/Christian Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants worship the same God?"

    Yes.

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  24. Any church that preaches and teaches Jesus Christ as true man and true God, and that Jesus died for sinners for their salvation, ought be considered a Christian church.

    In the end, only Christ knows who the true believers are.

    But those (churches or individuals) who profess Christ as their Savior ought be given the benefit of the doubt (I believe), in spite of whatever goofy theologies that may tend to obscure Jesus from time to time.

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  25. @theoldadam,

    I really don't want to start a new theological firestorm, but you just opened up yourself to all new criticism.

    BOTH the Incarnation AND the Trinity are necessary for 'True God' Christian faith/ Christian church. All the early church heresy arguments ultimately centered on this Trinity/Incarnation theology. The theology of atonement requires it. The theology of 'the church' requires it. The theology of creation requires it, as does the theology of the Christian eschaton.

    There are probably others, but without both the theology of Incarnation & Trinity at the heart of a church - to call it 'a Christian church' is not accurate. It's not accurate according to scripture, tradition, history, or frankly...reason.

    That aside, if "Roman Catholics, Eastern/Christian Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants WORSHIP the same God," then they are BROTHERS (and sisters) in Christ...assuming the accuracy of Trinitarian theology.

    That means something very very important. I won't insult you with numerous scriptural addresses proving how critically important that is. Nor will I argue (from scripture) how (in very specific ways) brothers in Christ ought to behave toward each other. I know you can do that study yourself.

    What I will state is that recognizing and acknowledging that truth - we are BROTHERS in Christ; we WORSHIP the same God - REQUIRES that many people who call themselves Christian, begin to treat their brothers differently than they do today....and it will then CALL them to treat their 'other brothers' differently, too, since all brothers in Christ are spiritually descendant from Christ (the second Adam) and EVERYONE is physically (if metaphorically) descendant from Adam, the first father.

    DJ|AMDG

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  26. http://huff.to/p8Nmap

    I hope all you have take a chance to read this perspective from Miroslav Volf.

    DJ|AMDG

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