April 2, 2005
Does Islam improve on Christianity?By James Arlandson
Does Muhammad fulfill and complete the mission and ministry of Christ? Muhammad answers with an emphatic yes.
Basic Islamic theology teaches that since Allah sent Gabriel down with the Quran to Muhammad the messenger of Allah, Muhammad and the Quran fulfill and complete the mission of Christ and the New Testament. Muhammad seems to recognize the value of the Bible (Suras 4:47; 4:136; 4:163; 5:44—48; 5:82—83; 6:92, 154), but ultimately Christianity and the New Testament must yield to Islam and the Quran, the new and superior revelation.
Sura (Chapter) 5:15—16 illustrates Muhammad's viewpoint. In the context of Muhammad's distortion of the Christian doctrine of the Sonship of Christ (v. 17), and in the context of his asserting that Jews have been cursed (v. 13), this passage in the Quran (representing others) says that Christians (and Jews) have been walking in darkness until Muhammad came:
5:15 People of the Book [Jews and Christians] . . . a light has now come to you from God, and a Scripture [the Quran] making things clear, 16 with which God guides them who follow what pleases Him to ways of peace, bringing them from darkness out into light, by His will, and guiding them to a straight path. (Haleem) (cf. 4:157)
A Bible—educated Christian today immediately recognizes the imagery of light. Jesus says that he was sent down from heaven as the light of the world, and Christians have passed from darkness into the light (John 1:4—5, 8:12, 9:5, 12:46; 1 Peter 2:9). Now, however, Muhammad claims that Christians had been living in darkness, and he has come to clarify matters for them, as if things had been muddied. The Quran offers guidance along a "straight path," a theme often repeated in the Muslim Scriptures (e.g. Sura 1) and makes "things clear." Verse 16 is likely one of the verses a Muslim has in mind when he points out that Islam is a religion of peace. But is it?
A devout, Bible—educated Christian in no way believes that Islam is superior, so how do we break this deadlock? Ignore it? Given recent events like 9/11, this is no longer feasible. Do we pretend that all religions are the same? But this forces us to deny some basic, non—negotiable doctrines that all religions have and that cannot be reconciled. So do we argue over these abstract doctrines?
Debating abstract ideas like the Unity or the Trinity of God has a place in the Christian—Muslim dialogue, but neither claim can be proven by simple observation. The Quran everywhere affirms the strict Unity of God, whereas the New Testament everywhere affirms the divinity of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit. So we have merely pitted one sacred text against another, and to break this deadlock we must go down still other paths. (For more information on the reliability of the New Testament, visit this site; for the problems inhering in the Quran, go here.)
Since Muhammad lays down a serious challenge to Christ and Christianity, we Christians must answer him. What would Christ say? As it turns out, he has given us a clear teaching on how to evaluate a prophet who comes after him in history, especially if the later prophet asserts his superiority over Christ: call it fruit inspection.
In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ spoke to the multitudes, few of whom or none of whom were theologians, but simple agrarians. In Matt. 7:15—20, Christ uses unambiguous language about discerning the truthfulness of prophets:
7:15 Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you shall know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you shall know them.
In today's western world in which millions would prefer to not rock the boat with Islam but to accommodate it, this passage may stand out as intolerant. But in these verses Christ understands the stakes. Religious truth—claims come into the world by the dozens, seemingly every second, and these claims are not abstract; the lives of people are at risk. So the price of accommodation, especially since 9/11, is too high.
Besides, it is Muhammad who says that he is superior to Christ and that his new religion improves on Christianity. He is the one who issued the challenge in the first place. Therefore, 600+ years before Muhammad came on the world stage, Christ answers him and numerous self—described prophets who stalked the Mediterranean world with a fruit inspection.
To illustrate, let us suppose that I claim that my way is better than yours. Then I should be able to back up my verbal assertion with my actions in obvious ways. My behavior should actually be better than yours, for my actions speak louder than my words. Specifically, if I as the founder of a religion say that husbands in my community are allowed to beat their wives (Sura 4:34), but you as the founder of a religion say that husbands in your community are not allowed to beat their wives, then how can my alleged superiority stand up in real life? I am promoting an empirically bad practice, but you are not.
I simply do not pass fruit inspection. That is, my fruit or behavior or down—to—earth practices are rotten. Therefore, Christ is absolutely correct to use this simple test for his followers to examine the claims of later prophets. "By their fruit you shall know them" (Matt. 7:16)
We can boil down Muhammad's challenge and Christ's fruit inspection in a simple if—then logical argument. This one is known as modus tollens or denying the consequent (the "then" clause).
(1) If A, then B. If Islam improves on Christianity, then these improvements should show up in observable, down—to—earth ways.
(2) Not—B. But these improvements do not show up in observable, down—to—earth ways.
(3) Therefore, not—A. Therefore, Islam does not improve on Christianity.
We now easily defend each premise.
(1) If Islam improves on Christianity, then these improvements should show up in observable, down—to—earth ways.
We have already defended this premise in our lead—up to it. Examining the life and practices of the Founder of Christianity and the Founder of Islam is the first and best way to break the deadlock between the two competing religions, because we can observe their behavior and actions down here on earth. By their fruits we shall know them.
(2) But these improvements do not show up in observable, down—to—earth ways.
Defending this premise with hard evidence answers most clearly the challenge that Muhammad levels against Christ and demonstrates beyond any doubt that Muhammad's fruit is bad, whereas Christ's fruit is indeed healthy and ripe.
The following list has already been developed in this article, which is actually the basis for the article now. If the reader believes that these actual practices in Muhammad's life and the following verses in the Quran are taken out of context or out of thin air, then he or she should go to the link, and then, once there, he or she should go to the further links provided under each point. These dubious practices actually happened in Muhammad's community, and Muhammad in his Quran actually orders these atrocities. Also, to see the Quranic verses in multiple translations, the reader should go here and type in the references, like so: 24:2 (24 is the sura or chapter, and 2 is the verse). Ignore the request for transliterated Arabic chapter titles, and just type in the numbers.
*Muhammad nicknames his weapons, and he nicknames himself "the obliterator."
Christ never owned weapons because he never waged war on people.
*Muhammad in his Quran commands that adulterers and adulteresses should receive a hundred lashes (Sura 24:2). Reliable hadiths (Muhammad's words and deeds outside of the Quran) command stoning them.
Christ forgave the woman caught in adultery. The men who had gathered around to stone her dropped their rocks and left. She stayed, weeping, until Christ told her to go and sin no more (John 8:1—11).
*Muhammad in his Quran permits husbands to beat their wives (Sura 4:34).
Neither Christ nor the New Testament authors permit this or practiced this.
*Muhammad in his Quran commands that the hands of male or female thieves should be cut off (Sura 5:38).
Christ never said to do this. In fact, the Apostle Paul said that thieves should work with their hands, not get them cut off in order to share with those in need (Ephesians 4:28). In this matter (and in many others) Paul excels Muhammad.
*Muhammad assassinates poets and poetesses and political enemies.
Christ never assassinates any of his enemies and certainly not poets (even bad ones).
*Muhammad in his Quran commands death or the cutting off of hands and feet for fighting and corrupting the land (Sura 5:33).
Christ the Prince of Peace dies for the sins of the world, so that "corruption" and the "fighting" would stop.
*Muhammad marries a prepubescent girl, Aisha, and consummates his marriage with her while she is still only a girl. For more evidence on this most outlandish of Muhammad's domestic acts even for Seventh Century Arabia, readers should refer to this article. The Quran itself allows such unjust marriages for other Muslims, as well (Sura 65:4).
Christ never did this, and he never said to do this.
*Muhammad in his Quran promises sensuous, "virgin—rich" Gardens for martyrs dying in a military holy war (Suras 44:51—56, 52:17—29, 55:46—78, 61:10, 4:74, 9:111).
Christ's "Martyrdom" on the cross means that Christians do not have to die in a holy war to be guaranteed heaven. They need only trust in him.
*Muhammad unjustly executes around 600 male Jews and enslaves the women and children. This atrocity is celebrated in his Quran (Sura 33:25—27)
Christ was a Jew and loves his own people. Moreover, he loves the whole world——even the polytheists whom Muhammad slaughters——and redeems it by his death, burial, and Resurrection. He was not sent to slaughter people.
*Muhammad launches his own military Crusade in AD 630 with 30,000 jihadists against the Byzantines (who never showed up) (Sura 9:29).
Sura 5:16, quoted in the introduction to this article, asserts that Islam is the religion of peace. This list, however, flatly contradicts this mere verbal assertion. Actions speak louder than words. Islam is therefore not the religion of peace.
To repeat, if the reader believes that these points are taken out of context or thin air, he or she may click on that link and then on the links provided under each point.
Christians shall know prophets by their fruit. Bluntly stated, Muhammad, the self—described human messenger and prophet (Sura 3:144), clearly fails the down—to—earth fruit inspection. On the other hand, Christ the Son of God (Matt. 3:16—17) passes it with a perfect score.
(3) Therefore, Islam does not improve on Christianity.
This conclusion follows naturally and logically.
For fair—minded and reasonable people, practical matters like wife—beating and whipping adulterers and marrying prepubescent children are decisive. Actions and down—to—earth policies cannot be explained away, unless some people are willfully blind and refuse to see how obviously wrong it is do these things, or unless a prophet has a large army behind him to force his practices on the "inferior" followers of an "incomplete" earlier religion.
And this brings us back to abstract doctrines, again using myself and the reader as examples. Before we discuss non—empirical doctrines like the nature of God, as the founder of a new religion I must pass fruit inspection. Let us suppose that it is my practice to kill polytheists in bloody battles, instead of converting them only by preaching or instead of letting them live if they refuse to convert (Sura 9:4—5). On the other hand, it is your practice not to kill polytheists, but to convert them by preaching only and to let them live if they refuse to convert. Under these conditions, I fail a down—to—earth, observable fruit inspection, but you pass it. Hence, I lose my right to be taken seriously in my claims about the nature of God and other abstract doctrines that cannot be observed. It is clear that I serve either myself, or worse——a lesser god. You, on the other hand, have sound practical ideas, so you deserve a fair hearing.
In the same way, Muhammad's failure in his challenge to Christ can be stated in another if—then argument, this time in modus ponens or affirming the antecedent (the "if" clause).
(4) If A, then B. If Islam does not improve on Christianity in observable, down—to—earth ways, then it likely does not improve on Christianity in abstract, theoretical matters.
(5) A is affirmed. Islam does not improve on Christianity in observable, down to earth ways.
(6) B is affirmed. Therefore, it likely does not improve on Christianity in abstract, theoretical matters.
The first two premises are also easily defended.
(4) If Islam does not improve on Christianity in down—to—earth, observable ways, then it likely does not improve on Christianity in abstract, theoretical matters.
Muhammad embodies Islam, for he was the conduit through which Allah reveals the superior religion, so we again use him to test Islam. Fruit inspection says that if a prophet fails it, then his more abstract claims are suspect. In a secular context, this test is too high, for all humans are flawed. A physicist is allowed to discuss abstract matters about space and time, even though his personal life may be confused and even sinful. But in a religious context, especially when one religious leader (Muhammad) asserts that he is better than another leader (Christ), this test is essential and indispensable.
Furthermore, factual data confirm Muhammad's failure in abstract ideas. For example, it is a verifiable fact that the New Testament is reliable, whereas the Quran has its share of problems. (For more information on this topic, refer to these pages here and here). It is also a verifiable fact that Muhammad was not trained in high—minded matters. He simply picked up a hodge—podge of ideas that circulated over the trade routes and inserted them into his Quran (like the absurd non—death of Christ on the cross in Sura 4:157), claiming divine revelation from Allah. Hence, in clear and obvious ways he is not a reformer of Christianity (and Judaism), but a deformer of the two earlier religions. Therefore, historical facts confirm that he is likely wrong in theoretical doctrines——he does not know what he is talking about.
(5) Islam does not improve on Christianity in observable, down—to—earth ways.
After reading the list under premise two, any rational and intellectually honest seeker whose mind has not been clouded by a lifetime of devotion to Islam must reach the conclusion that Muhammad fails fruit inspection in practical, observable, and down—to—earth ways.
(6) Therefore, it likely does not improve on Christianity in abstract, theoretical matters.
This conclusion also follows naturally and logically.
Based on the list of wide differences between Christ and Muhammad under premise two, why would fair—minded and reasonable persons listen to Muhammad's high—minded and merely verbal doctrines that deny the Trinity or the divinity of Christ (Suras 2:116, 6:101, and 4:171, 5:73) or that conveniently support the inerrancy of the Quran (unless he has a large army behind him)? Reasonable and fair—minded fruit inspectors may rightfully conclude that his inspired Book is suspect because of his dubious life and because it is filled with unjust practices. In fact, open—minded people have the right to prefer Christ's factually kinder but allegedly "erroneous" Book, any day and every day, over and above Muhammad's allegedly "inerrant" but factually extremist Scripture. Muhammad must first show us his exemplary life before he is allowed to preach about high—minded theology or before we take seriously his revelations about abstractions.
For average Christians, then, especially the original followers whom Jesus was addressing in the Sermon on the Mount in First Century agrarian Israel, Christ says that by a prophet's fruit Christ's followers shall know the prophet. Once a prophet's fruit goes bad, or it starts off growing on a bad tree, then they do not need to inspect his abstract claims. He becomes a false prophet——strong language to be sure, but those words are Christ's (Matt. 7:15).
Is the connection between practical matters and theoretical matters iron—clad? Christ in Matt. 7:15—20 implies that the connection is indeed real and iron—clad. To repeat, if Muhammad was wrong about practical matters like beating wives, whipping adulterers, launching military Crusades, assassinating poets and enemies, and promising his jihadists virgin—rich Gardens if they die in a military holy war, then why would Christians listen to Muhammad on theoretical matters, especially since the New Testament everywhere affirms, for example, the divinity of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit? Even more important, why would Christians wish to convert to Islam, given Muhammad's dubious track record?
Are there no positive qualities (fruit) about Muhammad? Even the worst failure of a fruit inspection may have at least a few good qualities. A founder of a movement must show some degree of kindness if he wants his community to survive. But the good qualities do not lash out and harm people. The bad traits do, however. The overall picture of Muhammad's life in Medina (622—632) shows him waging war on polytheists (he conquers Mecca); on Jews (he banishes and kills them); and on Christians (he launches a Crusade). In the ten years that he lived there, he goes out on, sends out, or launches seventy—four raids, expeditions, or full—scale wars, ranging from peaceful negotiations (very few compared to violent raids), to assassination hit squads, to the conquest of Mecca with 10,000 jihadists, to a Crusade with 30,000 jihadists against the Byzantines (who never showed up). No one can whitewash this dark picture, which darkens his positive qualities.
Therefore, Muhammad does not complete and fulfill the mission and ministry of Christ——far from it, for Christ came into the world expressing the love of God. Factually, Muhammad and Islam are bad versions Christ and Christianity, and the Quran is empirically worse than the New Testament.
Does Islam improve on Christianity? Given the hard evidence, the answer is an emphatic no. Muhammad clearly fails to pass a simple fruit inspection.
[This article has a companion piece]
James Arlandson (PhD) teaches introductory philosophy and world religion at a college in southern California. He has written a book, Women, Class, and Society in Early Christianity (Hendrickson, 1997). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.