Will non-Muslims ever be permitted to debate Islam?
In his excellent book Civilization and Ethics, a penetrating analysis of the various religions and philosophies of the world, Schweitzer says this:
“In contrast to these monistic-pantheistic world-views, we find a dualistic outlook on life in the religion of Zarathustra (sixth century B.C. onwards), in that of the Jewish prophets (from the eighth century B.C. onwards), and in those of Jesus and Mohammed, this last, however, showing itself to be in all points unoriginal and decadent.”
That is a rather dismissive evaluation of Islam, so let’s test it by reference to some verses from the Koran itself.
Islam as “Unoriginal”
Before we start we should note two preliminary points.
First, what is meant by “unoriginal”? In general, a written work would be considered unoriginal if it were a copy or reproduction, in whole or in part, of another, already existing work.
Secondly, we should recall that the Koran was written during Mohammed’s lifetime (570 – 632 A.D.) – that is, many hundreds of years after the various books of the Bible; and in the case of the Torah, about two thousand years later.
In order to assess the originality of Islam, we will see what the Koran has to say about some seminal Biblical events: the Creation; the Garden of Eden; Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel; Noah; Abraham; Moses and the Ten Commandments; and of course, Jesus and the Crucifixion.
Yes, all those Biblical characters and events are referred to in the Koran, and many more – Lot, David and Goliath, Solomon, Elijah, Jonah, Joseph (of the multi-coloured robe fame), Job, John the Baptist, and the disciples, amongst others.
(References are to the English translation and commentary of the Koran by A. Yusuf Ali, by all accounts a respected and authoritative translation of, and commentary on, the Koran. For those who wish to read the verses for themselves, there are many internet sources. Please NOTE that where brackets appear in the verses quoted, that is because they are found in the original translation. They are NOT any kind of comment or interpretation on my part.)
The Koran adopts the Genesis version of a six day creation: Sura VII: 54: “Your Guardian-Lord is God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, and is firmly established on the Throne [of authority]:”
Compare Genesis 1: 1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
And Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” And see Exodus 31: 17.
Length of Days
According to Sura XXII: 47, “A Day in the sight of thy Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning.”
That is not unlike 2 Peter 3: 8: “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
Events in each Day
As for what happened in each of the “six days” of creation, the account in the Koran differs from the account in Genesis which, as I demonstrate in my series of articles Perspectives on the Scriptures, is being validated year by year with new scientific discoveries and theories.
This is the Koran’s version according to Sura XLI: 9 – 12:
9. Say: Is it that ye deny Him Who created the earth in two Days? And do ye join equals with Him? He is the Lord of (all) the Worlds.
10. He set on the (earth), mountains standing firm, high above it, and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measure therein all things to give them nourishment in due proportion, in four Days, in accordance with (the needs of) those who seek (Sustenance).
11. Moreover He comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: “Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly.” They said: “We do come (together), in willing obedience.”
12. So He completed them as seven firmaments in two Days, and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. And We adorned the lower heaven with lights, and (provided it) with guard. Such is the Decree of (Him) the Exalted in Might, Full of Knowledge.
This account gives a total of eight days for the creation, not six days – 2 days in verse 9, 4 days in verse 10, and another 2 days in verse 12. The answer, according to the Commentary, is that the 4 days in verse 10 include the 2 days in verse 9.
The Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve, and events in the Garden of Eden (referred to only as “the Garden”), can be found at Sura II: 30 – 39, and Sura VII: 11 – 25.
Here are verses 19 – 20 of Sura VII:
19. O Adam! dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden, and enjoy (its good things) as ye wish: but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression.
20. Then began Satan to whisper suggestions to them, bringing openly before their minds all their shame that was hidden from them [before]: he said: “Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest ye should become angels or such beings as live for ever.”
Cain and Abel
We then find this account of Cain slaying Abel in Sura V; 30 – 34:
30. Recite to them the truth of the story of the two sons of Adam. Behold! They each presented a sacrifice (to Allah): It was accepted from one, but not from the other. Said the latter: “Be sure I will slay thee.” “Surely,” Said the former, “Allah doth accept of the sacrifice of those who are righteous.”
31. “If thou dost stretch thy hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee: For I do fear Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds.”
32. “For me, I intend to let thee draw on thyself my sin as well as thine, for thou wilt be among the Companions of the Fire, and that is the reward of those who do wrong.”
33. The (selfish) soul of the other led him to the murder of his brother: He murdered him, and became (himself) one of the lost ones.
34. Then Allah sent a raven, who scratched the ground, to show him how to hide the shame of his brother. “Woe is me!” said he; “Was I not even able to be as this raven, and to hide the shame of my brother?” Then he became full of regrets.
Noah and the Ark
Noah is mentioned in several places in the Koran. Here is the account given in Sura VII: 59 – 64.
59. We sent Noah to his people. He said: “O my people! worship Allah! ye have no other god but Him. I fear for you the punishment of a dreadful day!
60. The leaders of his people said: “Ah! we see thee evidently wandering [in mind].”
61. He said: “O my people! No wandering is there in my [mind]: on the contrary I am a messenger from the Lord and Cherisher of the worlds!
62. “I but fulfil towards you the duties of my Lord’s mission: Sincere is my advice to you, and I know from Allah something that ye know not.
63. “Do ye wonder that there hath come to you a message from your Lord, through a man of your own people, to warn you,- so that ye may fear Allah and happily receive His Mercy?”
64. But they rejected him, and We delivered him, and those with him, in the Ark: but We overwhelmed in the flood those who rejected Our signs. They were indeed a blind people!
For those who may be interested, a more detailed account of Noah can be found at Sura XI: 25 – 49, and again at XXVI: 105 – 122.
Abraham is an important figure in Islam, and Sura II tells us how Abraham adopted Islam. Here are some of the verses:
127. And remember Abraham and Isma’il raised the foundations of the House [With this prayer]: “Our Lord! Accept [this service] from us: For Thou art the All-Hearing, the All-knowing.
128. “Our Lord! make of us Muslims, bowing to Thy [Will], and of our progeny a people Muslim, bowing to Thy [will]; and show us our place for the celebration of [due] rites; and turn unto us [in Mercy]; for Thou art the Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.
132. And this was the legacy that Abraham left to his sons, and so did Jacob; “Oh my sons! Allah hath chosen the Faith for you; then die not except in the Faith of Islam.”
133. Were ye witnesses when death appeared before Jacob? Behold, he said to his sons: “What will ye worship after me?” They said: “We shall worship Thy god and the god of thy fathers, of Abraham, Isma’il and Isaac,- the one [True] Allah: To Him we bow [in Islam].
And that is followed with some advice on why Judaism and Christianity should be rejected:
134. That was a people that hath passed away. They shall reap the fruit of what they did, and ye of what ye do! Of their merits there is no question in your case!
135. They say: “Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided [To salvation].” Say thou: “Nay! [I would rather] the Religion of Abraham the True, and he joined not gods with Allah.”
136. Say ye: “We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to [all] prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah [in Islam].”
At Sura VII we find an account of Moses and Pharaoh, according to the Koran. I have included a few verses of this account because it is rather entertaining.
103. Then after them We sent Moses with Our signs to Pharaoh and his chiefs, but they wrongfully rejected them: So see what was the end of those who made mischief.
104. Moses said: “O Pharaoh! I am a messenger from the Lord of the worlds,-
105. One for whom it is right to say nothing but truth about Allah. Now have I come unto you [people], from your Lord, with a clear [Sign]: So let the Children of Israel depart along with me.”
106. [Pharaoh] said: “If indeed thou hast come with a Sign, show it forth,- if thou tellest the truth.”
107. Then [Moses] threw his rod, and behold! it was a serpent, plain [for all to see]!
108. And he drew out his hand, and behold! it was white to all beholders!
109. Said the Chiefs of the people of Pharaoh: “This is indeed a sorcerer wellversed.
110. “His plan is to get you out of your land: then what is it ye counsel?”
111. They said: “Keep him and his brother in suspense [for a while]; and send to the cities men to collect-
112. And bring up to thee all [our] sorcerers well-versed.”
113. So there came the sorcerers to Pharaoh: They said, “of course we shall have a [suitable] reward if we win!”
114. He said: “Yea, [and more],- for ye shall in that case be [raised to posts] nearest [to my person].”
115. They said: “O Moses! wilt thou throw [first], or shall we have the [first] throw?”
116. Said Moses: “Throw ye [first].” So when they threw, they bewitched the eyes of the people, and struck terror into them: for they showed a great [feat of] magic.
117. We put it into Moses’s mind by inspiration: “Throw [now] thy rod”: and behold! it swallows up straight away all the falsehoods which they fake!
118. Thus truth was confirmed, and all that they did was made of no effect.
119. So the [great ones] were vanquished there and then, and were made to look small.
Sura V addresses the Covenant at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19: 5 – 9), but in the Koran it relates to the first three of the Five Pillars of Islam:
13. Allah did aforetime take a Covenant from the Children of Israel, and We appointed twelve captains among them. And Allah said: “I am with you: If ye (but) establish regular Prayers, practice regular Charity, believe in My apostles, honor and assist them, and loan to Allah a beautiful loan, verily I will wipe out from you your evils, and admit you to Gardens with rivers flowing beneath; but if any of you, after this, resisteth faith, he hath truly wandered
from the path of rectitude.”
Sura VII then gives this account of what happened next at Mount Sinai:
144. [Allah] said: “O Moses! I have chosen thee above [other] men, by the mission I [have given thee] and the words I [have spoken to thee]: take then the [revelation] which I give thee, and be of those who give thanks.”
145. And We ordained laws for him in the tablets in all matters, both commanding and explaining all things, [and said]: “Take and hold these with firmness, and enjoin Thy people to hold fast by the best in the precepts: soon shall I show you The homes of the wicked,- [How they lie desolate].”
And mercy will be shown to …
157. “Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own [scriptures],- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good [and pure] and prohibits them from what is bad [and impure]; He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light
which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper.”
158. Say: “O men! I am sent unto you all, as the Messenger of Allah, to Whom belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth: there is no god but He: it is He That giveth both life and death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the Unlettered Prophet, who believeth in Allah and His words: follow him that [so] ye may be guided.”
Jesus Proclaims Mohammed
Of course, Jesus also proclaimed the coming of Mohammed. This is from Sura LXI:
6. And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: “O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of Allah [sent] to you, confirming the Law [which came] before me, and giving Glad Tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.”But when he came to them with Clear Signs, they said, “this is evident sorcery!”
But the crucifixion was an illusion …
VI: 157. That they said [in boast], “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no [certain] knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
And it is blasphemy to claim that Jesus is the Son of God …
V ; 19. In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary. Say “Who then hath the least power against Allah, if His Will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all–every one that is on the earth? For to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He createth what He pleaseth. For Allah hath power over all things.”
Now reading all this, one could be forgiven for concluding that Mohammed simply plagiarized large parts of the Bible so as to portray himself as the focus of events. And that could only be construed as “unoriginal”. The Koran, on the other hand, argues that Mohammed was illiterate (“the Unlettered Prophet”) so he could not have read the Scriptures. Instead, A. Yusuf Ali’s Introduction to the Koran says this:
“C.29.-The Chosen One was in the Cave of Hiraa. For two years and more he had prayed there and adored his Creator and wondered at the mystery of man with his corruptible flesh, just growing out of a clot, and the soul in him reaching out to knowledge sublime, new and ever new, taught by the bounty of Allah, and leading to that which man himself knows not. And now, behold! A dazzling vision of beauty and light overpowered his senses, and he heard the word “Iqraa!”
“C.30.-“Iqraa!” — Which being interpreted may mean “Read!” or “Proclaim!” or “Recite!” The unlettered Apostle was puzzled; he could not read. The Angel seemed to press him to his breast in a close embrace, and the cry rang clear “Iqraa!” and so it happened three times; until the first overpowering sensation yielded to a collected grasp of the words which made clear his mission; its Author, Allah the Creator, its subject, Man, Allah’s wondrous handiwork, capable, by Grace, of rising to the heights sublime; and the instrument of that mission, the sanctified Pen, and the sanctified Book, the Gift of Allah, which men might read, or write, or study, or treasure in their souls.”
In other words, the author of the Koran is God Himself.
And that may explain why Muslims are so sensitive about any scrutiny or criticism of Mohammed. In respect of any other religion, philosophy, ideology or belief, the normal way people come to subscribe to them is by evaluating the text, then deciding whether the text justifies the claims made. But in respect of the Koran, Muslims insist that the starting point should be accepting the claims, and then reading the text in that light.
Which is why Muslims believe that the Jewish Scriptures and the Gospels got it wrong.
So how, according to the Koran, could the Jews and Christians have made such fundamental mistakes? Well, perhaps that is where the ‘decadent’ part of Schweitzer’s description comes in.
Islam as “Decadent”
According to the Koran, the Jews and Christians falsified their Scriptures.
In respect of the Jews, we find this at Sura II:
75. Can ye (O men of Faith) entertain the hope that they will believe in you? –Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of Allah, and perverted it knowingly after they understood it.
And this in Sura V:
14. But because of their breach of their Covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard: They change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the Message that was sent them, nor wilt thou cease to find them–barring a few–ever bent on (new) deceits: But forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds): For Allah loveth those who are kind.
In Sura V, we read this about the Christians:
15. From those, too, who call themselves Christians, We did take a Covenant, but they forgot a good part of the Message that was sent them: So We estranged them, with enmity and hatred between one and the other, to the Day of Judgment. And soon will Allah show them what it is they have done.
Then both Jews and Christians get a dressing-down for hiding the true message:
16. O People of the Book! There hath come to you our Apostle, revealing to you much that ye used to hide in the Book, and passing over much (that is now unnecessary):
17. There hath come to you from Allah a (new) light and a perspicuous Book, —
Consequences for the Jews and Christians for perverting the Message
From Sura II:
87. We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of Apostles; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you an Apostle with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride? –Some ye call impostors, and others ye slay!
88. They say, “Our hearts are the wrappings (which preserve Allah’s Word: We need no more).” Nay, Allah’s curse is on them for their blasphemy: Little is it they believe.
89. And when there comes to them a Book from Allah, confirming what is with them, –although from of old they had prayed for victory against those without Faith, –when there comes to them that which they (should) have recognized, they refuse to believe in it but the curse of Allah is on those without faith.
90. Miserable is the price for which they have sold their souls, in that they deny (the revelation) which Allah has sent down, in insolent envy that Allah of his Grace should send it to any of His servants He pleases: Thus have they drawn on themselves Wrath upon Wrath. And humiliating is the punishment of those who reject Faith.
And the Commentary to those verses says this:
C.47.- (Verses 87-121)-The people of Moses and the people of Jesus were given revelations, but alas! They played false with their own lights, and, in their selfishness, made narrow Allah’s universal message. To them it seemed incredible that His light should illumine Arabia and reform the world. But His ways are wondrous, and they are clear to those who have Faith.
Made them “apes and swine”
This is from Sura V:
62: Say: “O People of the Book! Do ye disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in Allah, and the revelation that hath come to us and that which came before (us), and (perhaps) that most of you are rebellious and disobedient?”
63. Say: “Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? Those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped Evil; –these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even Path!”
And from Sura II:
65. And well ye knew those amongst you who transgressed of the Sabbath: We said to them: “Be ye apes, despised and rejected.”
66. So We made an example to their own time and to their posterity, and a lesson to those who fear Allah.
Which the Commentary explains like this:
“The punishment would be, not for the breach of the Sabbath in itself (by the Jews), but for the contumacious defiance of the law.”
Special mention of the Jews
Again from Sura V:
65. Many of them dost thou see, racing each other in sin and rancor, and their eating of things forbidden. Evil indeed are the things that they do.
66. Why do not the Rabbis and the doctors of law forbid them from their (habit of) uttering sinful words and eating things forbidden? Evil indeed are their works.
67. The Jews say: “Allah’s hand is tied up.” Be their hands tied up and be they accursed for the (blasphemy) they utter. Nay, both His hands are widely outstretched: He giveth and spendeth (of His bounty) as He pleaseth. But the revelation that cometh to thee from Allah increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. Amongst them We have placed enmity and hatred till the Day of Judgment. Every time they kindle the fire of war, Allah doth extinguish it; but they (ever) strive to do mischief on earth. And Allah loveth not those who do mischief.
What Jesus really said to his disciples
According to the Gospel of John, this is what Jesus said to his disciples concerning the Holy Ghost:
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” John 16:7
The Koran says otherwise. We find the ‘true’ version of what Jesus said in Sura VXI:
6. And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: “O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of Allah (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving Glad Tidings of an Apostle to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.” But when he came to them with Clear Signs, they said, “This is evident sorcery!”
7. Who doth greater wrong than one who invents falsehood against Allah, even as he is being invited to Islam? And Allah guides not those who do wrong.
8. Their intention is to extinguish Allah’s Light (by blowing) with their mouths: But Allah will complete (the revelation of) His Light, even though the Unbelievers may detest (it).
9. It is He Who has sent His Apostle with Guidance and and the Religion of Truth, that he may proclaim it over all religion, even though the Pagans may detest (it).
As we have seen, Islam means “submission” or “surrender”. “Submission” to the “will
And this “submission” requires observance of the Five Pillars of Islam: affirming that there is no god but Allah and that Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah (the Shahâdah); ritual prayer five times a day (Salâh); giving alms on a determined scale (Zakâh); fasting during Ramadân (Sawn); and a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime (Hajj). Jihâd, or “holy war”, is sometimes called the “sixth” pillar, although it is not generally regarded as universally obligatory as long as a “sufficient number” participate.
But Jihâd also has another implication; compelling others to accept Islam. Here is Sura IX:
29. Fight those who believe not in God [Allah] nor the Last Day, Nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden By God and His apostle, Nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth [Islam], (even if they are) of the People of the Book [Christians and Jews], Until they pay the jizya With willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
And verse 20 of Sûra IX says this:
20. Those who believe, and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in God’s cause, With their goods and their persons, Have the highest rank In the sight of God: They are the people who will achieve (salvation).
And from Sura III:
151. Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, For that they joined companions with God, for which He had sent no authority: their abode will be the Fire: and evil is the home of the wrong-doers.
And the duty of Muslims, according to Sura VIII:
38. Say to the Unbelievers, if (now) they desist (from Unbelief), their past would be forgiven them; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already (a matter of warning for them).
39. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do.
And from Sura XIII:
13. See they not that We gradually reduce the land (in their control) from its outlying borders? (Where) God Commands, there is none to put back His Command.
And finally the punishment that awaits those who resist is found at Sura V:
35. On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person–unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land–it would be as if he slew the whole people: And if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our Apostles with Clear Signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.
36. The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: Execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: That is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;
37. Except for those who repent before they fall into your power: In that case, know that Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
So there we have Albert Schweitzer’s assessment of Islam, and there we have a selection of verses from the Koran which could be taken to relate to Schweitzer’s assessment.
The question is: will we ever be permitted a debate on what all this means, other than on terms dictated by Muslims themselves?
Copyright © Joseph BH McMillan 2015 All Rights Reserved