By Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
As the Christian masses are leaving theist paradigm in droves, your Holiness, your love of them and God, makes it incumbent on you and all the theists to first strive for theism and then for any particular brand, be it Judaism, Unitarian Christianity, Trinitarian Christianity or Islam, like they say in America, I am an American first and a republican or a democrat second. Tear down the walls that separate the Abrahamic faiths and open to everyone the possibility of Islam. If Christian masses cannot find comfort, peace and theism in one particular tradition let them try another tradition before they choose the abyss of atheism that you equated with Nazism.
Already during Jesus’ lifetime, people tried to interpret his mysterious figure by applying to him categories that were familiar to them and that were therefore considered apt for deciphering his mystery: He is seen as John the Baptist, as Elijah or Jeremiah returning, or as the Prophet (c£ Mt 16:14; Mk 8:28; Lk 9:19). In his confession, Peter uses-as we have seen-other, loftier titles: Messiah, son of the living God. The effort to express the mystery of Jesus in titles that explained his mission, indeed, his essence, continued after Easter. Increasingly, three fundamental titles began to emerge: ‘Christ’ (Messiah), ‘Kyrios’ (Lord), and ‘son of God.’[iv]
To someone who is not indoctrinated in the mysteries of dogma of Christianity, this strikes as very odd, almost mind boggling that a prophet of God, possibly God himself, according to Trinitarian ideology, spent his lifetime on the planet earth, exhausted his ministry and yet did not leave a clear message of his essence. Other than a few allusions and possibly illusions, attributed to Jesus, claiming divinity, he continues to call himself ‘son of man.’ The Pope agrees that Jesus preferred self-designation is ‘son of man.’[v] Now this is very interesting that Jesus all his life strove hard to emphasize his humanity and yet the followers especially St. Paul were able to hijack the monotheism of Jesus into a Trinitarian Christology. This reminds me of these two verses of the Holy Quran, which predict a testimony of Jesus in future:
“And when Allah will say, “O Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men, ‘Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?’”, he will answer, “Holy art Thou. I could never say that to which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is only Thou Who art the Knower of hidden things. “I said nothing to them except that which Thou didst command me — ‘Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ And I was a witness over them as long as I remained among them, but since Thou didst cause me to die, Thou hast been the Watcher over them; and Thou art Witness over all things.” (Al Quran 5:117-118)
With this testimony of Jesus, may peace be on him, when Muslims start reading the Bible they are again pleased to note how accurate and precise is the revelation of the Islamic scripture. Jesus will say, “’I said nothing to them except that which Thou didst command me — Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I remained among them,’” and I thank the Pope for bringing out the fact that in the first gospel, which is the Gospel of Mark that was the first to be written after Jesus’ crucifixion, around 70 AD, the term ‘son of man,’ occurs no less than 14 times on the lips of Jesus. This once again highlights that the synoptic gospel of Mark is far more accurate in presenting the status of Jesus than the gospel of John written three decades later! The Pope writes:
Son of man – this mysterious term is the title that Jesus most frequently uses to speak of himself In the Gospel of Mark alone the term occurs fourteen times on Jesus’ lips. In fact, in the whole of the New Testament, the term ‘son of man’ is found only on Jesus’ lips, with the single exception of the vision of the open heavens that is granted to the dying Stephen: ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ (Acts 7:56). At the moment of his death, Stephen sees what Jesus had foretold during his trial before the Sanhedrin: ‘You will see the son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Mk 14:62). Stephen is therefore actually ‘citing’ a saying of Jesus, the truth of which he is privileged to behold at the very moment of his martyrdom.
This is an important finding. The Christology of the New Testament writers, including the Evangelists, builds not on the title ‘son of man;’ but on the titles that were already beginning to circulate during Jesus’ lifetime: ‘Messiah’ (Christ), ‘Kyrios’ (Lord), ‘son of God:’ The designation ‘son of man’ is typical for Jesus’ own sayings; in the preaching of the Apostles, its content is transferred to the other titles, but this particular title is not used. This is actually a clear finding. And yet a huge debate has developed around it in modern exegesis; anyone who tries to get to the bottom of it finds himself in a graveyard of mutually contradictory hypotheses. A discussion of this debate lies outside the scope of this book.[vi]
The Pope does not intend to go into this debate, but as they say the cat is out of the bag, all his life Jesus uses the term son of man, time and time again and the Pope himself has conceded that the Christology of the New Testament writers, including the Evangelists, build not on the title ‘son of man;’ but on the titles that were mostly developed after his crucifixion. Jesus was son of man, during his lifetime and he was put on the cross with the caption ‘King of the Jews;’ his divinity was a later invention and that is why we find it in Gospel of John rather than Gospel of Mark and the other synoptic gospels.
I humbly invite you that instead of continuing to focus on the complex theology of Trinity in the twenty first century, return to the Monotheism of Judaism and the simple, yet elegant creed of Islam, ‘there is no God but Allah.’ Allow me to extend the invitation in the words of the Holy Quran:
Say, ‘O People of the Book! come to a word equal between us and you — that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for Lords beside Allah.’ But if they turn away, then say, ‘Bear witness that we have submitted to God.’ (Al Quran 3:65)
It has been claimed by the Church for centuries that Jesus was a perfect man and a perfect God, which reminds me of a movie, the Three Faces of Eve. It is a 1957 American film adaptation of a case study by Thigpen and Cleckley. It was based on the true story of Chris Costner Sizemore, also known as Eve White, a woman who suffered from multiple personality disorder. Sizemore’s identity was concealed in interviews and this film, and was not revealed to the public until 1975. The character in the movie could switch between the different personalities depending on the demands of the occasion. All of us are well aware of our own selves, each one of us sees oneself as one person with one brain, one mind, one consciousness, one soul and borrowing an analogy from the computer software, one operating system! It was not terribly difficult to imagine in the early centuries, when science was primitive at best, a compound being, a perfect man and a perfect God. But, in this day and age of inquiry and information the natural question would arise, how Jesus of the Catholic Church, managed his two beings or the two operating systems, how did he switch between the two, did they exist simultaneously, if so, how are we to fathom a finite human existence and human mind co-existing with an infinite divine being and omniscient wisdom? I do not expect that the Pope or any serious minded Christian theologian will ever try to answer these questions; I bring these in a rhetoric fashion for the fair minded to migrate to better theology, be it Judaism, Unitarian Christianity or Islam. How did Jesus flip between his two operating systems, divine and human, will remain one of the great mysteries of Christian dogma, like the other so called mysteries of Trinity, Eucharist and the Original Sin?
The Pope has suggested on the back cover of the hardcover edition of the book Jesus of Nazareth, “this book is … my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord.’” So, I thought that it would be befitting to extend him this invitation mostly in the paradigm of his own book, using some of the metaphors that he has used.In the last chapter he delves into what the Church has sympathetically called a mystery and Søren Aabye Kierkegaard calls aparadox par excellence, yes, I am alluding to the dogma of Trinity. The Pope writes:
Is he ‘son’ in a derivative sense, referring to some special closeness to God, or does the term ‘son’ imply that within God himself there is Father and son, that the son is truly “equal to God;’ true God from true God? The First Council of Nicea (325) summed up the result of this fierce debate over Jesus’ sonship in the word homoousios)‘of the same substance’ – the only philosophical term that was incorporated into the Creed. This philosophical term serves, however, to safeguard the reliability of the biblical term. It tells us that when Jesus’ witnesses call him ‘the son;’ this statement is not meant in a mythological or political sense-those being the two most obvious interpretations given the context of the time. Rather, it is meant to be understood quite literally: Yes, in God himself there is an eternal dialogue between Father and son, who are both truly one and the same God in the Holy Spirit.[vii]
These expressions may have some emotional appeal to someone who has been indoctrinated into Christianity over a lifetime but to the uninitiated these amount to nothing. First of all, the Nicene Creed claims that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father. Now, the Father is a perfect God and the son is a composite of a perfect man and a perfect God. Is a part the same as the whole? Are all humans of the same substance as God? If we use our deductive logic rather than befogging lenses of the so called faith, the issue is clear and black and white and is a paradox par excellence. Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, who crossing the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, and literature, had come to be regarded as a highly significant and influential figure in contemporary thought, suggested this strategy to the fellow Christians:
It is not the business of any Christian writer or preacher to dilute Christianity to suit the general educated public. The doctrine of the incarnation was to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, and so will it always be, for the doctrine not only transcends reason; it the paradox par excellence; and it can be affirmed only by faith, with passionate inwardness and interest. The substitution of reason for faith means the death of Christianity.
The strategy of ignoring reason has been a success in the last two centuries, for the clergy. But, what Kierkegaard could not foresee is the information age with its millions of websites. It will be hard to hide behind the veil of ‘faith’ alone and run away from reason and rationality. It is self evident that faith cannot be divorced from reason. If man needed faith alone, any cult would be as good as any religion and all human affairs will completely collapse.
The concept of Trinity was developed in a society in which polytheism was the norm and no one tried to fully comprehend the implications of polytheism. In that environment Trinity with its one side revealing Monotheism, was a vast improvement over the polytheism rampant in the Roman Empire in the first few centuries after Jesus’ crucifixion. The model of prophets, as in Judaism and Islam, is easy to understand, as all humans have experienced dreams, and some have experienced true dreams, so they can imagine more accurate revelations. The ideas of Trinity and incarnation and Jesus being a perfect man and a perfect god made sense in the medieval times but not anymore! I have a detailed Google Knol that examines different aspects of Trinity.[viii] The fact of the matter is that the term Trinity not only does not appear in the New Testament, but was not coined until two centuries later by the Christian theologian, Tertullian.[ix]
We can agree on God the Creator
The foregoing should not make the reader think that there is not much common between Christianity and Islam, especially between the teachings of Muhammad and Jesus, may peace be on both. The name of Jesus, may peace be on him appears more frequently in the Holy Quran than the name of Muhammad, himself. A chapter of the Quran is named after mother Mary and she is presented as a role model, for all Muslims, men and women.
To look for common thread between the Christian and the Muslim theology we can start at Deism or liberal Protestantism. One could study the religion of President Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. There is a lot in their views that a Muslim and a Christian can agree on. I have a detailed Google Knol that examines the thoughts and beliefs of President Thomas Jefferson.[x] Here let me mention some quotes from the other two. About March 1, 1790, Benjamin Franklin wrote the following in a letter to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, who had asked him his views on religion:
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.[xi]
My dear Pope, the Muslims and the Catholics can agree on the deism as Thomas Payne, Benjamin Franklin and President Thomas Jefferson put it, in recognizing that God is the Creator of our Universe, in so doing we will at least define a theist in his or her bare minimum as opposed to an agnostic or an atheist. Thomas Paine concluded a speech shortly after the French Revolution with: “God is the power of first cause, nature is the law, and matter is the subject acted upon.”
In his book The Age of Reason,Thomas Paine wrote that “everything we behold carries in itself the internal evidence that it did not make itself. This includes trees, plants, humans and other animals. This conclusion carries us on … to the belief of a first cause eternally existing … this first cause, man calls God.”
I find the thoughts and beliefs of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and President Thomas Jefferson, perfectly in synchrony with this famous verse of the Holy Quran:
He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise. (Al Quran 59:25)
I know in your book Introduction To Christianity, you try to make a distinction between God of Faith (Personal God) and God of the philosophers, I will comment on that from the Muslim perspective in the review of another of your books, The God of Jesus Christ: meditations on the Triune God.
Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to Ezra Stiles and Professor Phillip Cary quoted, in his lecture series the History of Christian Theology:
Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable service we render to Him is in doing good to His other Children. That the soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its conduct in this.[xii]
My dear Pope, you would note absence of Pauline creed of ‘justification by faith alone,’ in the religion of Benjamin Franklin. This idea of the great polymath is none other than what is also preached in the letter of James in the New Testament and is precisely an Islamic and Quranic idea.[xiii] You write about the purpose and achievements of Jesus:
Now, it is true that this leads to the great question that will be with us throughout this entire book: What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought?
The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God. He has brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the Prophets, and then in the Wisdom Literature–the God who revealed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the nations of the earth.
He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love. It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little. Yes indeed, God’s power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and lasting power. Again and again, God’s cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves.[xiv]
As Muslims we completely agree with the basic thesis as outlined in the above paragraphs. We believe in all the prophets that you mention, including Jesus. He did bring ‘the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love.’ You also mention, ‘God who revealed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises,’ as Muslims we believe that God revealed himself to all nations of the world, but over time they corrupted the message and pagan ideas crept in different guises, as you suggest. These historical events and the prophet hood of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and others, define the context, in which we should try to understand the essence and message of Jesus. If we recognize this context then Christology becomes at odds with not only Judaism but also all other religions that originally started with God’s unveiling His Countenance to the prophets, including but not limited to Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Hinduism! This highlights the pressing need to learn from the theology of President Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine and start using that as a common platform to examine Christianity and Islam.
You have on several occasions in your writings highlighted that human life is centered around one God and we the Muslims agree with that thesis. The early opponents of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, thought that he is utterly obsessed with One God, Allah. The same devotion and dedication is reflected in the psyche of religious Christians with a slight modification. When we examine essence of Christianity, we find that our Christian brethren have an obsession with one person named Jesus Christ. This is not my idea but of Prof Phillip Cary. He brings this out in his teaching company course of the History of Christian Theology. But, is not God the Father more deserving of our devotion and constant obsession, if you will? The Christian obsession needs to be transferred to God Himself the Creator of this universe including the human race. The obsession is misplaced when directed at a person, however, charismatic or accomplished. If our obsession is primarily with God and secondarily with Moses, Jesus or Muhammad, may peace be on them all, many of our spiritual, religious and political problems and differences will disappear in thin air. If the Christian obsession can be fine tuned from Jesus to God the Father then we the Muslims can share the obsession as the Holy Quran says about the Prophet Muhammad:
Say, ‘My Prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my approaching death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds. (Al Quran 6:163)
The Muslims love the Prophet Muhammad dearly but they are allowed to obsess about and worship Allah alone, the Creator of the universe.
The context of Judaism
Achievements of every person and every event in history need to be interpreted in the context of the events. Of course, Jesus, may peace be on him needs to be understood in the context of Judaism. He was born in a Jewish family, grew up as a Jew and preached to the Jews all his life and tried to explain the Jewish law during the Sermon of the Mount. Prof. Bart Ehrman explains the importance of context, in a lecture series on the New Testament for the teaching company with a very simple yet effective metaphor:
The context of a word or group of words is always crucial for interpretation. What would it mean, for example, if I said, ‘I love this course’? Well, it would depend on where I am, what I am doing, and what the word course means (course of a meal, golf course, college course) or how I inflect the word love.[xv]
If the sentence is said sarcastically with appropriate inflection on the word love, it would mean the exact opposite that I hate this course. It is not only the context of monotheism as understood by the Jews but also of the Unitarian Christians. The fact of the matter is that Unitarian Christianity continued to be the majority as compared to the Trinitarian Christianity for the first four centuries. It is stated in 1890 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, “The Trinitarians and the Unitarians continued to confront each other, the latter at the beginning of the third century still forming the large majority.” In The Encyclopedia Americana we read:
Unitarianism as a theological movement began much earlier in history; indeed it antedated Trinitarianism by many decades. Christianity derived from Judaism and Judaism was strictly Unitarian [believing that God is one person]. The Road which led from Jerusalem to the Council of Nicea was scarcely a straight one. Fourth century Trinitarianism did not reflect accurately early Christian teaching regarding the nature of God; it was, on the contrary, a deviation from this teaching.[xvi]
The above claims become glaringly obvious to any unbiased reader, if he or she examines the history of Ecumenical Councils and heresy in the first 6 centuries of Christian evolution, some references and sources have been linked here. [xvii][xviii][xix]
The conflict between the teachings of Jesus and Christology
Whenever Jesus had an opportunity to teach to the masses before his crucifixion, he never taught them about any form of Christology, rather he enlightened them about the interpretation of Jewish Law. See the Sermon of the Mount:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mathew 5:17-20)
Christianity started as the religion of Jesus and became a religion about him, labeled as Christology. From a religious and spiritual movement in Judaism, from the religion of Jesus himself, it evolved into a religion about Jesus Christ, a Christology, fairly different from Judaism that occupied center stage during the life of Jesus. The Holy Quran states about the Jews and the Christians:
And the Jews say, ‘The Christians stand on nothing;’ and the Christians say, ‘The Jews stand on nothing;’ while they both read the same Book. Even thus said those who had no knowledge, like what they say. But Allah shall judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that wherein they disagree. (Al Quran 2:114)
The inference of this verse to my mind is that in every area, where in Judaism differs from Christianity, we can find useful discussion for theology. Pursuing these areas will yield better understanding of monotheistic Abrahamic traditions. Now I want to move to a confession in the words of Pope Benedict XVI that Jesus taught Kingdom of God and not Christology. The explanation that he offers, later, to resolve the conflict, is perhaps for the converted only, but the conflict is blatant and evident for every one to see. Jesus preaches ‘Kingdom of God,’ in 122 places in the New Testament and not Christology. The Pope writes:
The core content of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand. A milestone is set up in the flow of time; something new takes place. And an answer to this gift is demanded of man: conversion and faith. The center of this announcement is the message that God’s Kingdom is at hand. This announcement is the actual core of Jesus’ words and works. A look at the statistics underscores this. The phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ occurs 122 times in the New Testament as a whole; 99 of these passages are found in the three Synoptic Gospels, and 90 of these 99 texts report words of Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, and the rest of the New Testament writings, the term plays only a small role. One can say that whereas the axis of Jesus’ preaching before Easter is the Kingdom of God, Christology is the center of the preaching of the Apostles after Easter.
Does this mean, then, that there has been a falling away from the real preaching of Jesus? Is the exegete Rudolf Bultmann right when he says that the historical Jesus is not really part of the theology of the New Testament, but must be seen as still essentially a Jewish teacher, who, although certainly to be reckoned as an essential presupposition for the New Testament, ought not to be counted as part of the New Testament itself?
Another variant of this alleged gulf between Jesus and the preaching of the Apostles occurs in the now famous saying of the Catholic modernist Alfred Loisy, who put it like this: Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, and what came was the Church. These words may be considered ironic, but they also express sadness. Instead of the great expectation of God’s own Kingdom, of a new world transformed by God himself, we got something quite different-and what a pathetic substitute it is: the Church.[xx]
The Pope confesses, ‘One can say that whereas the axis of Jesus’ preaching before Easter is the Kingdom of God, Christology is the center of the preaching of the Apostles after Easter.’There is a dramatic contrast in what Jesus preached during the three years of his ministry, according to Gospel of John and shorter according to the others,before he was put on the cross and what came to be known as Christology, a religion about Jesus and not of Jesus! If Jesus told the disciples about his crucifixion and that is a big if, he emphasized to keep it hidden! In other words Christology was not on Jesus’ mind, when he lived and preached for some of those 33 years in Palestine, during the first century. As the Pope has outlined some statistics for us what was on his tongue was the apocalyptic message of Kingdom of God, that he mentioned no less than 90 times. It is high time we distinguish his message from a later message of St. Paul.
Cross examining the testimony of Synoptic Gospels about Jesus, Mark 8
His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI writes, trying to explain the essence of Jesus, may peace be on him, and I have taken the liberty of putting my words within brackets here:
All three synoptic Gospels present Jesus’ question to the disciples about who the people think he is and who they themselves consider him to be (Mk 8:27-30; Mt 16:13-20; Lk 9:18-20) as an important milestone on his way. In all three Gospels, Peter answers in the name of the Twelve (I did not notice the name of the twelve in any of these three reports, Peter is answering for himself) with a confession that is markedly different from the opinion of the ‘people.’[xxi]
Let us see how worth while the testimony of Peter is, when Jesus labels him as Satan? For that let me first quote a large portion from Mark chapter 8:
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ’ Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. He then began to teach them that the son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’ (Mark 8: 27-38, New International Version)
This is hardly a satisfying account of Jesus divinity, and his dying for the human race, when you take into account the number of times he mentions the befitting title of son of man for himself and awaits the Kingdom of God. He is known to be Christ only by Peter, who is called Satan by Jesus, within few lines of his confession of Jesus’ status. Jesus calls himself son of man twice in this account and his simple count of number of days before he rises up again is wrong. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs. A man being a God as well, at the same time, is indeed an extraordinary claim in our present day context and what proofs are being offered for the claim? Hardly any!
If we take the passage on face value, Jesus kept his essence hidden all the years of his ministry and as it is coming to a close, he very subtly reveals it but advises at the same time, ‘not to tell anyone about him.’ What is he afraid of? In short, when you cross examine the witness, the testimony is not trust worthy and certainly not worth basing a dramatic religion on it that suggests a human incarnation, never witnessed in history before or since. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs that are not available.
Cross examining the witness: Matthew 16
Let us see how worth while the testimony of Peter is? For that let me first quote a large portion from Matthew chapter 16:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[d] will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matthew 16:13-28 New International Version)
Some of the criticism that applies to Mark 8 applies to this account as well. According to historical evidence Matthew and Luke copied almost a third of their gospels from Mark, yet there are discrepancies in the three accounts. In Matthew’s version, Jesus is not only the Christ but also son of the living God. Here Peter is given the keys but not in Mark or Luke. In Mark, Jesus addresses the crowd and here he addresses the disciples only. In both accounts he advises them to hide the testimony, firstly that is not moral and secondly does not make any sense if he is preparing himself to die for the sins of humanity. What is Jesus afraid of? When would he rise up again? According to Mark, ‘he must be killed and after three days rise again’ and according to Matthew, ‘he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ Now you do the math but to me two is not equal to three!
Incidentally, the apocalyptic prophecy, of second coming of Jesus in his kingdom,mentioned in the last of the quoted verses did not come true.
In short, when we cross examine the witness; the testimony is not trust worthy and certainly not worth basing a dramatic religion on it that suggests a human incarnation, never witnessed in history before or since.
Cross examining the witness: Luke 9
Let me first quote a large portion from Luke chapter 9, before examining it:
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:18-27, New International Version)
Some of the criticism that applies to Mark 8 applies to this account as well. Additionally, the occasion of the whole event is different from Mark 8. Here the whole event happened as they were praying in private not so in Mark’s account. Additionally in Luke at the conclusion Jesus addresses the disciples, whereas in Mark he addresses the crowd. In both Mark and Luke, Jesus wants his status to be kept hidden from the people. What is he afraid of? In short, when you cross examine the witness of the Gospels; the testimony is not trust worthy and certainly not worth basing a dramatic religion on it that suggests a human incarnation, never witnessed in history before or since.
Contrasting the history of Christian and Muslim theology
The Christian masses, in general have very limited understanding of the doctrine of Trinity, and how it came about. All of us will do ourselves a great favor if we are to learn about the history of early Catholic Church, I recently did. In a Teaching Company course titled the Catholic Church: A History, Prof. William R Cook very eloquently describes the role of the four Ecumenical Councils in the creation of the doctrine of Trinity. The last of these Councils was the Council of Chalcedon. It is considered by the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, the Old Catholics, and various other Western Christian groups to have been the Fourth Ecumenical Council. It was held from 8 October to 1 November 451 at Chalcedon. Prof. William R Cook writes in the booklet of this course. “The Council of Chalcedon met to deal with the question of the nature(s) of Christ. The Council condemned the Monophysite position, declaring that Christ has two complete natures, human and divine.” Even the very basic concept of Trinity, was not formulated until the second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381. Prof. Cook writes, “The Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the Nicene formula and emphasized that the Holy Spirit was indeed God–an unequivocal affirmation of the Trinity.”[xxii]
It took several centuries to merely figure out the details of Trinity and hybrid nature of Jesus in Christianity. These paradoxical ideas were then imposed on the consciousness of the masses by the tools and weaponry of heresy. Contrast the complexities of theology especially pertaining to the dogma of Trinity and Original Sin with the beauty and simplicity of the Muslim creed, ‘there is no God but Allah,’ and the teaching that all children are born innocent. The complex history of Christian theology as recorded in the history of various Ecumenical Councils stands in sharp contrast with the purity and elegance of development of Muslim theology. The Holy Quran taught in great detail the Transcendent God of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, David, Solomon, John the Baptist, Jesus and Muhammad, ‘Who begets not, nor is He begotten; ‘And there is none like unto Him.’ [xxiii] The monotheism of Islam and the Quran, the Arabic word being Tauheed was so comprehensive and complete that no room existed for public debate or bickering. Unlike several centuries of debates in Christianity, there were no debates about theology. The political struggles among the Muslims, notwithstanding, the injunction of the Prophet Muhammad, not to make any picture of him, helped prevent any polytheistic or pagan distortions creeping into Islam. The famous British Orientalist, William Montgomery Watt writes, as he contrasts Christianity and Islam:
It is roughly correct to say that in Islam the place of theology is taken by law and jurisprudence. Those who deal with the intellectual aspects of the religion are jurists and not theologians, and at the centre of higher education is jurisprudence and not theology. In other words, Islam is more concerned with orthopraxy than orthodoxy. This comes about because the early development of Islam and Christianity took place in very different circumstances. The first Christians lived in the Roman empire, where there was an effective system of law of excellent quality, and for three hundred years the Christians had no political responsibilities. The first Muslims, on the other hand, lived in Mecca, Medina and other parts of Arabia, where nomadic customary law was breaking down because there were now communities based mainly on either commerce or agriculture. From the time of the Hijra the leading Muslims were responsible for the affairs of a political community, and consequently we find in the Qur’an rules for dealing with the practical problems which arose. As the centuries passed these grew into a complete system of law, both public and private, as well as prescriptions for the practice of religion.[xxiv]
The Holy Quran preached a beautiful and rational concept of monotheism and the Prophet discharged the practical implications of Tauheed. Freed from the struggles and debates about theology the early Muslims could focus their attention to law, jurisprudence and science. This was how Islam ushered an era of enlightenment that a few centuries later lit the dark ages in Europe! [xxv][xxvi]
Epilogue: What do the theists owe to the agnostics and the atheists
The general USA population consists of 26.3% Evangelical Protestant Christians, 18.1% Mainline Protestant Christians, 23.9% Catholic Christians and 6.9% population belonging to historically Black Churches. These numbers imply that approximately 75% of the population is Christian. The rest of the 25% includes the largest share of unaffiliated, which makes 16.1% of the total population,[xxvii] and second group of 9.9%, comprising of all the other religions, including Islam and Judaism. With every ticking of the clock the proportion of the unaffiliated keeps increasing. The proportion of the unaffiliated, which means agnostics or atheists, is larger in Canada and Europe. Coming to the close of my invitation, I want to go to the beginning of your book to the introduction section that you start with the following paragraph:
The Book of Deuteronomy contains a promise that is completely different from the messianic hope expressed in other books of the Old Testament, yet it is of decisive importance for understanding the figure of Jesus. The object of this promise is not a king of Israel and king of the world-a new David, in other words-but a new Moses. Moses himself, however, is interpreted as a prophet. The category ‘prophet’ is seen here as something totally specific and unique, in contrast to the surrounding religious world, something that Israel alone has in this particular form. This new and different element is a consequence of the uniqueness of the faith in God that was granted to Israel. In every age, man’s questioning has focused not only on his ultimate origin; almost more than the obscurity of his beginnings, what preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him. Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so that he can avoid perdition and set out toward salvation.[xxviii]
Here you note the struggle of each man and woman, in the words, “What preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him. Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so that he can avoid perdition and set out toward salvation.” You also recognize the context of Christianity which is Judaism, in bringing out the Old Testament and prophethood of Moses. Additionally, you mention Jesus here as a new Moses. In the continuation of all this, allow me to build on a common understanding of theism, let me go back to God the Creator, God of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Payne and of Benjamin Franklin, with your permission, let me quote William D. Phillips, a Nobel Laureate in physics, a fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute of the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology:
Why do I believe in God? As a physicist, I look at nature from a particular perspective. I see an orderly, beautiful universe in which nearly all physical phenomena can be understood from a few simple mathematical equations. I see a universe that, had it been constructed slightly differently, would never have given birth to stars and planets, let alone bacteria and people. And there is no good scientific reason for why the universe should not have been different. Many good scientists have concluded from these observations that an intelligent God must have chosen to create the universe with such beautiful, simple, and life-giving properties. Many other equally good scientists are nevertheless atheists. Both conclusions are positions of faith. Recently, the philosopher and long-time atheist Anthony Flew changed his mind and decided that, based on such evidence, he should believe in God. I find these arguments suggestive and supportive of belief in God, but not conclusive. I believe in God because I can feel God’s presence in my life, because I can see the evidence of God’s goodness in the world, because I believe in Love and because I believe that God is Love.[xxix]
These are essentially the thoughts of all theists, whether they are coming from Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Sikh tradition. The question that has increasingly bothered me for the last few years is, why do many a theists often side with the agnostics and atheists for political gains and some short term selfish goals rather than theists from other Abrahamic traditions? Why our love of God does not necessitate that we find the theists from Jewish, Muslim and Christian tradition closer to our heart and mind than the atheists arising from our own tradition. Why does our common theism not foster fellowship and solidarity amongst us? In the concluding paragraphs let me present how I think our love of God should help us overcome the mistrust of each other.
Your Holiness, you recently urged the UK to resist “more aggressive forms of secularism.” You said: “We can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews.” You added:
As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society, May it [Britain] always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.[xxx]
Large numbers of Christian population in the West are finding it increasingly difficult ‘to avoid perdition and set out toward salvation,’ they are moving towards agnosticism and atheism, ranging 15-25% of population in different Western countries, their rationality is no longer satisfied with the dogma of Christianity and they cannot seriously consider Islam, a result of centuries of Islamophobic propaganda. You owe it to these fellow humans who are coming from Christian background, to tear down the curtain that unreasonably separates these two Abrahamic faiths, Islam and Christianity. The disillusioned Christian masses need to let the life blood of theism flow in their veins again and not sink in the abyss of atheism, chaos and lack of purpose and direction. Allow them the free choice of Islam.
The Church has been kind to Galileo Gallelli in particular and science establishment in general in extending an apology, for the past limitations. She has also recognized the Islamophobia she propagated, even though briefly and occasionally. The Islamophobia of centuries, first introduced by the Church herself in the masses, is perhaps the main reason, why most Christians are unable to genuinely consider the Islamic tradition as an option for theism before converting to atheism. May be under your leadership, the Church can redefine the course and in recognizing the limitations of the past set the two traditions onto a friendly course of co-existence. After all both the faiths have far more in common with each other than with Hinduism, Buddhism, agnosticism or atheism and in my opinion even Judaism.
As the Christian masses are leaving theist paradigm in droves, your Holiness, your love of them and God, makes it incumbent on you and all the theists to first strive for theism and then for any particular brand, be it Judaism, Unitarian Christianity, Trinitarian Christianity or Islam, like they say in America, I am an American first and a republican or a democrat second. Tear down the walls that separate the Abrahamic faiths and open to everyone the possibility of Islam. Czech Republic already has a majority of people who are unaffiliated with religion, but the Netherlands, for example, will go from about 40% unaffiliated today to more than 70% by 2050, the statisticians expect. If Christian masses cannot find comfort, peace and theism in one particular tradition let them try another tradition before they choose the abyss of atheism that you equated with Nazism.[xxxi]
In the words of Sir George Bernard Shaw, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity.”[xxxii] At another occasion he said, “I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad, that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.”[xxxiii]
Finally, let me conclude in the words of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, lead follower of the Prophet Muhammad, and Messiah of this age:
We can furnish conclusive proof to every seeker after truth that from the time of our lord and master the Holy Prophet Muhammad [peace and blessings of Allah be on him] up to this day, in every century there have appeared men of God through whom God Almighty has guided other people by the display of heavenly signs. Of these were Sayyed ‘Abd-ul-Qadir Jilani, Abu-al-Hasan Kharqani, Abu Yazid Bistami, Junaid Baghdadi, Mohy-ud-Din Ibne-‘Arabi, Dhunnun Misri, Mu‘in-ud-Din Chishti Ajmeri, Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiar Kaki, Farid-ud-Din Pakpatni, Nizam-ud-Din Dehlvi, Shah Wali-ullah Dehlvi, and Sheikh Ahmad Sarhandi (Allah is pleased with them, and they are pleased with Him). Their number exceeded thousands. So many extraordinary happenings concerning them are set out in the books of the learned ones that even a very bigoted opponent has to admit that these people manifested extraordinary signs and miracles. I tell you truly that through my research, so far as it is possible for one to discover about the past, I have come to the conclusion that the number of heavenly signs in support of Islam and as a testimony of the truth of the Holy Prophet [peace and blessings of Allah be on him] which have been manifested through the saints of this Ummah, is not to be equaled in the history of other religions. Islam is the only religion which has progressed through heavenly signs, and its numberless lights and blessings have ever demonstrated the existence of God Almighty as if He is visible close at hand. Be sure that on the score of its heavenly signs Islam has not been put to shame in any age. In this age of yours, you could, if you wished, be the witnesses of signs in support of Islam. Say truly: have you not witnessed signs in support of Islam in your own age? Is there any other religion in the world that can produce such testimony? These indeed are the reasons which have broken the back of Christian missionaries. He whom they set up as god has nothing in his support except a few meaningless tales and false narratives. The signs of the truth of the Holy Prophet [peace and blessings of Allah be on him], whom they reject, are visible in this age like pouring rain. For seekers the gates of heavenly signs are as open today as they were in any previous age, and for those who are hungry after truth the banquet of bounties is as much available today as it was before. A living faith is as much available today as it was before. A living faith has always the hand of the Living God at its back and such a faith is Islam. 
[iii] Edward Gibbon, Peter Eckler. History of Christianity. New york, Peter Eckler publishing Company – 1916 – Page xvi.
[iv] Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth. Double 2007. Page 319.
[v] Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth. Double 2007. Page 320.
[vi] Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth. Double 2007. Pages 321-322.
[vii] Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth. Double 2007. Page 320.
[xi] Carl Van Doren. Benjamin Franklin. New York: The Viking Press, 1938, p. 777.
[xiii] Al Quran 103:1-4.
[xiv] Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth. Double 2007. Page 44.
[xv] Prof. Bart Ehram. The New Testament. The Teaching Company course book, 2000. Page 8.
[xvi] The Encyclopedia Americana 1956.
[xx] Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth. Double 2007. Pages 47-48.
[xxi] Joseph Raztzinger–Pope Benedict XVI. The Jesus of Nazareth. Doubleday, 2007. Page 287.
[xxii] Prof. William R Cook. The Catholic Church: A History. The Teaching Company, 2009. Page 20.
- [Kitab-ul-Bariyyah, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 13, pp. 91-92] Also included in the Essence of Islam, volume I: http://www.alislam.org/books/Essence-1.pdf
Categories: CHRISTIANITY, Interfaith tolerance, Islam
The same letter should be addressed to other Christian leaders: The Coptic Pope of Egypt, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Orthodox Pope of Moscow, of Greece etc.
Thank you brother Rafiq for a very good suggestion. I will do it in the due course of time.
1) Every person who uses their mind, can read in the Bible, Jesus should not be worshipped as God, and in many places of the world Christians are well aware of that;
2) The word ‘atheist’ is not in the Qu’ran, neither is it in the Bible. The Bible states clearly, the Kingdom is for everybody doing God’s will, so an ‘unbeliever’ is someone, not believing it is good to do God’s will. Same in the Qu’ran, where it states the disbeliever is the one not believing in the verses from the Qu’ran.
3) It’s even in the second letter from John:
is also in the Bible, in 2 John, where it says:
2 John 1:7-11 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
Or, in other words, ‘who does not confess Jesus was a man, a human being, flesh and blood.’
8 Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
Or, in other words, we should not loose everything he taught.
9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
So, it is about the doctrine. ‘Unbelievers’ are those that do not follow the doctrine, doesn’t matter what worldly religion, or if they have a religion. If what the world calls an ‘atheist’ lives according to the doctrine, truly loving another like they love themselves, not harming them and contributing for the good of all, this ‘atheist’ is a believer as he lives Gods word.
10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
4) All religions contain many human made interpretations and misunderstandings, Christianity as well as Islam. To point at others false beliefs is not the way to solve those problems, it is better to find ones own.
O ye who believe! if you obey any party of those who have been given the Book, they will turn you again into disbelievers after you have believed.
(Qu’ran Aal-e-Imran 3:101)
On academic standpoint, why would anyone regard Quran as accurate than the Christian Bible and the Torah? The Torah and the Christian Bible existed prior to the Quran. The chances of corrupting the accounts in the New Testaments (NT) of the
Christian Bible are less compared to Quran since the NT is closer to the event of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Many Muslims regard Torah as corrupted also. The root of Christianity is Judaism thus we believe in the accuracy of the Torah and the other Books of the Old Testaments. Muslims need to present the burden of proof to show that the accounts in the NT and Torah are not true and the Quran is the accurate one.
On a theological sense, the Holy Trinity is a mystery of God that could best be understood if you are baptized. The Holy Spirit will let you experience this in many layers or many stages in our life. There is not enough human langauge that could best explain this. We could just ponder with awe and wonder. Perhaps, the Holy Trinity is not something that human should just define since there is no exact word that can define or explain it. It must be experienced. The first apostles and witnesses of Jesus also wrestled on trying to understand who Jesus is. He is human yet He can do other things that humans can’t do.The Gospel according to John deals more on the divinity of Jesus. Compared to the three synoptic gospels, it is to a much greater degree a product of a developed theological reflections on who Jesus is and His mission. Other theological reflections, doctrines, dogmas etc promulgated by the Holy Church (also known as the Roman Catholic Church) are considered inspired by the Holy Spirit since the Holy Church was founded by Jesus with Peter as the first Pope. The Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son thus the Holy Trinity acts in unity. Whatever the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, binds on earth will also be bound in heaven based on this unity.
How can Islam fit into this unity?
To continue my previous comments…..According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (anyone can access this online under vatican archive) #845: To reunite all His children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood. “Outside the Church there is no salvation” CCC#847: This affirmation is not aimed at those who,through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience- those too may acheive eternal salvation. CCC#848 “Although in ways known to Himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please Him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”
In Islam, it is taught that Christ was born of Virgin and will return at the end of times. Why is it that no other prophets were born in such extraordinary circumstances? If Mohammed were the final prophet, why is it not he or one of the earlier Jewish prophets who will return? Can it be that even in the Quran, there is no hiding the fact that Christ is above all? And what does that mean? In the Bible, Christ warns us to be wary of false prophets and to judge a faith as we judge a tree, by its fruits. These are important insights to think about, as are the acts of Christ as recounted in the Bible vs. the acts of Mohammed.