June 4, 2006
A Dialogue with a Saudi Muslim (2)By James Arlandson and Soliman albuthe
Part One may be read here. It introduces Mr. Soliman al—Buthe's Open Letter to Congress. James Arlandson responds today.
Greetings. I am finally getting back to you after a long time. I have been occupied with posting articles on various issues concerning Islam.
I must admit that when I got your response in Part One to my questions, I was a little disappointed. Your Open Letter to Congress has nothing to do with abstract theology, so I decided to dialogue with you. Most people want to know how to live to the fullest. They really do not care about these doctrinal disputes or differences.
However, I now attempt to reply to your theological questions and assertions, following your sequence of points.
Is the Bible reliable and accurate?
Your first three points call into question the reliability and authenticity of the Bible. You say that Bible scholars admit that there are contradictions in it. You link to 'Sullivan County.' I am not sure who the webmaster is, but he does not seem to be a reputable scholar. In any case, these harsh critics of the Bible exist. This is the unpleasant part of the Enlightenment. When or if an equally demanding Enlightenment hits Islamic countries, the Quran will undergo such criticism� (see the very next section). However, I can find equally reputable scholars who say that the Bible is reliable and accurate.�
For example, these two high—level scholars from an earlier generation, F. F. Bruce, citing Sir Frederic Kenyon, conclude the following:
These next two current scholars reach the same conclusion:
Is the Quran pure and uncorrupted?
By criticizing the Bible, you allow me to challenge the Quran. Muslims believe that it reached earth from Allah in an uncorrupted state and remained that way. However, plain facts contradict this belief. Here are only four examples.
First, this hadith from Bukhari (a highly reliable collector and editor of hadith) says that Uthman burned different versions of the Quran.
It is one thing to prepare the final version (if one exists of the Quran), but burning alternate versions? This is wrong.
Second, this hadith says that the Quran was recited seven different ways:
Would these seven recitations produce different version of the Quran? Other hadiths (see the linked articles, below) reveal that four different reciters spoke the Quran in different versions. Is this why Uthman was so anxious to burn the different versions? For more information see this article and this one.�
Third, a sound hadith from Sahih Muslim says that an entire sura (chapter), which had over a hundred verses, is missing from the Quran.
Fourth and finally, this is an interesting modern discovery: a 'buried' version of the Quran, found in 1972, during the restoration of the Great Mosque of Sana'a, in Yemen.
Why won't the authorities allow its publication? What are they hiding?
Please see this webpage that has many links to articles and hadiths on the corruptibility of the Quran. I wrote this article explaining that Muhammad borrows from the apocryphal gospels about events in young Mary's life (and, be analogy, in young Jesus' life) even though the Prophet of Islam claims explicitly that he received specific information from revelation alone (Sura 3:44). It is true that a few New Testament authors borrow a line or two from non—Christian Greek poets, but they never claimed that they got this information only from Gabriel or only from a heightened state of inspiration.�
Does culture influence sacred texts?
Next, you say in point no. 2 that 'the Bible was written by ordinary people who were influenced by the prevailing culture of their time.' Apparently, you believe that this is abnormal and calls into question the reliability of the Bible, as if culture taints it. You seem to imply that the Quran was not influenced by its prevailing seventh—century culture in Arabia. In reply, however, by criticizing the Bible in this way, I am permitted to point out the obvious about the Quran. The implication that the Quran has not been influenced by culture is simply not true. For example, Sura 5:38 says that the male or female thief should have his or her hand cut off. Ibn Kathir, a respected classical commentator, says the following about the gruesome punishment and its cultural origins:
So it seems, after all, that the Quran does not rise above its own culture, but retains a severe punishment.
Also, Muhammad raided Meccan caravans. He was following his culture, which engaged in this practice all the time. The Quran in the Medinan suras that often call for war reflects Muhammad's Sunnah, which in turn reflects seventh—century Arabia (see Sura 8 in its entirety, which deals with the Battle of Badr, merely another raid, but on a larger scale).
In these subpoints you ask a flurry of questions and throw in many terms and concepts. So this section of my reply is the longest.
What does 'begetting' mean?
Your challenges about this term rest on old ideas, not modern research. The Greek word at issue (see for example John 3:16) is monogen�s. Traditionally, this has been translated as 'only begotten.' However, new lexical research in the twentieth century on this word in the ancient Greek world concludes that the second half of the word (—gen�s) does not mean 'beget,' but 'class' or 'kind.' Now when we add mon— back to —gen�s, the word most accurately means 'one of a kind' or 'unique' or 'in a class by itself or himself.'
In relation to the Sonship of Jesus, the most accurate meaning reads: 'one—of—a—kind Son' or 'unique Son' or 'the Son in a class by himself.' This is why the translation called the New International Version (NIV) has in John 3:16, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only [monogen�s] Son.' The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) has for the same verse . . . 'only [monogen�s] Son.' And the margin of the New American Standard Bible (NASB) reads: 'unique, only one of His kind' for the same Greek word.
Thus, the notion of 'begetten' is removed from the Sonship of Jesus, and so are the complications that you raise. Jesus is the one—of—a—kind Son who is in a class all by himself. He is not begotten, except possibly in the context of his resurrection and exaltation after his ascension, where the Greek verb is used (see Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5, 5:5). These verses quote Psalm 2:7, which describe a coronation, an apt analogy to the ascension of Christ. In any case, the New Testament teaches that he has lived eternally with the Father, without beginning. This is simple. This brings us back directly to the inspired New Testament, without having to appeal to and depend on later human opinions.
Source: Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 2000), pp. 1233—34.
See this webpage� that links to other articles on the issue of 'begotten.'
However, you seem to question the theology of some theologians and Christians ('mainstream Christians' is your wording). Perhaps you mean those in early church Councils (e.g. Nicea in AD 325), such as Athanasius, (d.� 373), or more recently, the late Pope John Paul II (your point no. 4d); the members of the Council of Nicea seem to have understood monogen�s as containing the idea of 'begotten.' Therefore, I attempt now to explain the term in three steps, assuming, only for the sake of discussion, that concept 'begotten' really is contained in the Greek word.
First, words may take on different meanings and nuances in different contexts. For example, the word 'apology' in one context means an expression of remorse or regret, or an admission of error. Thus, 'I offer an apology for offending you.' But in another context 'apology' can mean defense. 'I offer an apology of my religion.' These two meanings (admission of errors vs. defense against errors) go in opposite directions, or at least they stand far apart from each other. This shows how fluid language and even one word can be, from one context to the next.
Second, this fluidity can be applied to 'begotten.' It can have different meanings or nuances, depending on the context. Down here on earth, 'begotten' has a temporal meaning. A man begets a son, who has a beginning. However, in the eternal realm, where God lives, the word takes on the quality of eternity. This means that the Father's begetting of the Son of God does not have a beginning. This unique relationship between Father and Son has always existed from eternity past and will exist into eternity future, according to the full teaching of the New Testament.
Third, you require me to explain the words of a much greater Christian and theologian than myself—Pope John Paul II. You quote him in your point no. 4d, and ask me if his words make sense to me. They do, and here is my explanation, tentatively.
You quote Pope John Paul II as follows:
If I understand this great man of God, he seems to create an analogy. (Note the word 'reflects,' as in Idea A reflects or is similar to Idea B.) It compares the Father—Son relationship in the eternal realm (heaven) and this same relationship in the temporal realm (earth). The eternal 'begetting' without beginning 'reflects' the earthly 'begetting' when Jesus takes on his humanity, by the Spirit of God, in the womb of Mary. In both contexts, the Father begets the Son. But all analogies are imperfect, so we should not take this one too far. Essential doctrines should not be based on them. It seems merely that the Pope discusses the Father—Son relationship in its unique and one—of—a—kind mode because it existed in heaven before Jesus was born of Mary, and it still exists in heaven after Jesus' ascension back into heaven after his resurrection.
These two realms (heaven and earth) resolve the alleged contradictions that you raise in the word 'begetting.' On earth it has a beginning. In heaven it does not have a beginning, but it is eternal, in the unique and eternal Father—Son relationship, according to the full teaching of the New Testament.
But please note: This quick comment on the late Pope's ideas is only tentative, not authoritative.
However, I believe that the idea of 'begetting' is excluded from monogen�s, so for me the complexities do not exist. Jesus is the eternal Son of God without beginning. He has always existed alongside the Father, sharing the same substance, essence, and being.
See my article on the Trinity, which links to many other articles.
Does the Quran have a mysterious mother?
Now let's throw a challenge about the Quran at you and your fellow scholars. By criticizing Christian doctrine, you allow me to challenge Islamic doctrine. What happens if we take a literal reading of some passages about Allah and the Quran? Does the Quran have a mysterious mother?� I have edited this excerpt from two colleagues at answeringislam.org.
Incidentally, the Saudi authorities have blocked this Christian site from entering the internet in your country. This is odd. If Islam is so awesome and it contains the Final and Best Revelation, then what is your government hiding from your fellow citizens? It seems that they would remain within Islam no matter what this Christian website teaches. The Truth of Islam would keep them in, so competition in the marketplace of ideas should not threaten the Best Religion.
In any case, Sam Shamoun and Jochen Katz write about the assertion in the Quran that Allah must have a wife or consort in order to produce a son or an offspring. They begin:
Now let's apply the same (unsound, but valid) logic to the Quran and its mysterious mother. Shamoun and Katz continue
My concluding comment on the entire excerpt: This is what happens when we take things too literally. The Quran does not literally have a mother who had sexual relations with Allah; in the same way the eternal Father was not required to have sex to 'beget' the eternal Son of God. Don't you think we should get away from an overly literal reading of our holy books, in many areas?
Why do millions of Africans leave Islam and convert to Christianity?
You write in point no. 4 that the complexities about the Sonship of Christ may drive some Christians 'into the fold of Islam.' In reply, however, this may be true for some people, but I do not believe that most ordinary people are concerned about abstract doctrines. Instead, they want to know how to live in peace, and this is what Islam is all about, isn't it?
To be blunt, Islam is a burdensome, severe, and harsh religion. The evidence for such an assessment? The following legal decrees, policies, and practices demonstrate it. They go outside of mere verbal assertions and mental beliefs and high—minded theology. Every one of them comes from the Quran itself, followed by chapter and verse.
* Anyone who accuses someone else of sexual sin must bring four witnesses; if not, the accuser gets eighty lashes (24:4);
* Husbands are a degree above their wives in status (2:228); reliable hadiths say that the majority of the inhabitants of hell are women due only because of their 'harshness and ingratitude,' not because of their numerical majority around the globe;
* A male gets a double share of the inheritance over that of a female (4:11);
* A woman's testimony counts half of a man's testimony because she may 'forget' (2:282). Reliable hadiths say this law is based on the 'deficiency of a woman's mind';
* A wife may remarry her ex—husband if and only if she marries another man, they have sex, and then this second man divorces her (2:230);
* Muhammad has special marriage privileges (as many women as he desires), which only he enjoys (33:50);
* A Muslim man may be polygamous with up to four wives (4:3);
* Muhammad gets twenty percent from his seventy—four raids and wars in ten years in Medina (8:1, 41);
* Husbands may hit their wife or wives (4:34);
* Mature men may marry and consummate their marriage with prepubescent girls (65:4);
* Slavery is endorsed: Muhammad himself traded in slaves and owned black slaves; and Muslim men may have sex with slave—girls (47:4; 4:24; 23:5—6; 70:29—30);
* Sexual sinners must be whipped (24:2), and sound hadiths say adulterers and homosexuals must be executed (see below for the punishment inflicted on homosexuals);
* Critics of Islam and Muslims may be killed (33:59—61);
* The Quran endorses the massacre of Jewish men and pubescent boys and the enslavement of the women and children (33:25—27);
* Jihadists buy status in this life and in the afterlife (4:74; 4:95—96; 9:38—44, 86—87, and 111; 61:10—11);
* Polytheists in the Arabian Peninsula had to convert or die (9:5);
* Muhammad is the first to lunch his own Crusade� long before Europeans responded with their own (9:29).
This list is all about physical acts here on earth, not about abstract doctrines like 'begotten.' These acts and legal decrees can be measured and evaluated with our own eyes and sound reason, and how do they come out? Not very well, to say the least.
Further, it may be fairly asked: Did Jesus and his Apostles and the New Testament authors say or do these things? Not even close. Therefore, if a Christian wants to enter into 'the fold of Islam,' then that is his prerogative. But maybe this list will tell him that abstract doctrines per se do not harm or maim or kill people. But the implementation of this list does exactly that.
If you or the readers suspect that these verses have been taken out of context, you and they may click on the following articles that in turn have long and several supporting articles behind each item on the list:
Does the Old Testament command some severe punishments? Yes, but go here�to find out why they no longer apply in the New Testament.
Can someone even half—divine be killed?
Finally, you ask this question as if the answer is self—evident (point no. 4e). Indeed, this is easy to answer, but not in a way that satisfies Islamic doctrine. I see nothing in divinity that precludes the Ultimate Sacrifice, if and only if the Deity willingly and voluntarily lays down his life.
Jesus himself says that he did not come to earth to be served and pampered:
In these next two verses he says that he willingly lays down his life.
Christianity does not put God so far up in heaven that he lives in a silver box or golden cage, isolated. It is risky to assert that God cannot do something. Limiting the limitless Deity is misguided. I believe that the Son of God freely choosing to step down into time and space is the most blessed doctrine in all of Christian theology. He did this out of his good will and his powerful love. I would never give up this miracle and historical reality. It benefits humanity greatly.
Thus, for me, there is nothing inherent in God's nature that blocks him from stepping down into time and space, showing us a better way and redeeming us and offering us the gift of eternal life with him. Nothing inherent in his nature? If someone has a prior belief that God could not do this, then what is his starting point for his belief? The Quran? But the New Testament says that the Incarnation happened. So we have two sacred texts that have competing, irreconcilable doctrines.
How do we break the deadlock? For me, the answer is found not in abstract theology, but in practical matters down here on earth. And the long list of policies taken from the Quran in the previous section and the four linked articles (that support the list) resolve the conflict and answer the debate, for me at least. If Islam and its foundation—the Quran—are harsh and excessive in practical matters, then why should I listen to the Quran in abstract doctrines? I don't listen to it.
Points 5 and 6
Is the Enlightenment perfect?
These two points indicate that there is a negative or a downside to the Enlightenment. You quote Robert Louis Wilken's book review of Bernard Lewis' Crisis of Islam. Maybe Islamic countries should avoid the Enlightenment, he says. In reply, no one says that the Enlightenment does not bring a backlash. The movement was huge and diverse. It has a sting in it, perhaps many stings. But I believe that the benefits outweigh the liabilities, especially in politics and plain, everyday life. The above list (see 'Why do millions leave Islam') explains how the Enlightenment can help Islam, in practical areas. We do not need revelations from a holy book that was too deeply influenced by his seventh—century Arab culture in its laws and policies. We can use sound reason to figure out, for example, how to divide an inheritance between a male and female, or why husbands should not hit their wives—at any time or in any circumstance, or why marrying and having sex with prepubescent girls is wrong.
Does Islam deal effectively with sexual sinners?
Next, you quote Dr. Albert Mohler, who laments a lack of church discipline and the aggressive homosexual agenda in America.
In reply, though I do not know Dr. Mohler, I have heard him on the radio. He is allowed to preach righteousness to society and influence public policy, especially church policy. But I can guarantee you that he would not advocate executing homosexuals. But the Prophet of Islam did this.
First, the Sunan Abu Dawud says that Ibn Abbas reports the following about early Islam and Muhammad's punishment of homosexuals:
The next one below no. 4447 says that an unmarried man who commits sodomy should be stoned to death:
Third and finally, in the hadith collection Mishkhat al—Masabih, a compendium that brings together other hadith collections, your Prophet prescribes the punishments of being burned to death and having heavy objects thrown on guilty homosexuals:
For more information on Islam's and Christianity's policies on homosexuality, go to this article.
I do not deny that the West has not reached moral perfection. The West indeed has its share of problems. However, you seem to believe that without the Enlightenment of any kind and with Islam's guidance in a society, problems vanish away. However, this webpage� has further links to homosexual activity in Saudi Arabia, the land of the two Holy Mosques (in Mecca and Medina).
To cite only one example from that webpage, on April 7, 2005, it was reported that Saudi Arabia sentenced more than 100 men to prison or flogging for 'gay conduct.'
Is whipping and imprisoning and executing sinners in order to force and impose external righteousness the best policy? 'If only we could catch and punish more sinners, then we could teach them a lesson! Then the others will straighten up! We could eliminate the problem! In fact, let's kill them after a judge orders their execution!' This seems to be the yearning of many Muslims whose ideas I read online or in print media. However, people need to change from the inside out. Forcing holiness on to people does not work in the long run and for everybody.
Mr. Al—Buthe, please consider this. You may believe that Saudi Arabia does not want nor need all of the Enlightenment (even Islam's own version—today—not a thousand years ago), but the long list of practical policies (see 'Why do millions leave Islam,' above) tells me two things:
(1) The Quran absorbed too much of its culture. If it improved on seventh—century Arabia, then it did not go far enough for a religion that claims universality.
(2) When a religion (church or mosque) becomes the government, it tends to oppress people. It is better to let people live in freedom, even if they abuse it. That is the lesson of history in the West. I admit that the West has gone too far in decadence, but if we cannot strike the perfect balance between freedom and limitations, then surely you agree that freedom is better than repression, don't you? Then the citizens of your country can breathe the fresh air of liberty without being harassed by religious police. The power and winsomeness of Islam would surely keep them on the straight and narrow.
This is Part Two of a multipart series.�