The Problem of Islamic Salvation
I browsed thru your website and found it very interesting. My name is Adly. I am a 24 year old Muslim. I'm not very well versed in Islam myself but I'm learning. At the same time I am also learning (slowly) about Christianity. I would like to know sir, about what you think about Islam and Muslims. Do you think that we're... what's the word... lost? I would like to know if you have an opinion. I will not take any offence, heck, you might know more about Islam than I do! So if you have time, I would really appreciate it if you would give me your opinion.
Thank you very much.
Thank you for writing. I really appreciate those people who are interested in investigating all truth claims and thinking through what they should or should not accept. I fear that in our culture today we place too little emphasis on intelligent thought and critical investigation. Even if one believes the right thing, believing it by happenstance is not a justifiable position.
To your question. In investigating such important claims, we must be very careful that we are open and honest in our critiques. We should use the same criteria for judging all faiths' assertions, and we should understand each belief system from the point of view of its proponents - so as to not characterize the belief system.
Both Christianity and Islam hold to the belief that those who deny the basic tenets of their faith are to be judged on the Last Day. In fact one of the foundational beliefs of the faith is that a final day of judgment is coming, followed by heaven for the faithful and hell for the lost. (See http://www.islam.com/Artialsfaith.htm)
This belief is outlined in Sura 69:15-33 where we read:
15. On that Day shall the (Great) Event come to pass. 16. And the sky will be rent asunder, for it will that Day be flimsy, 17. And the angels will be on its sides, and eight will, that Day, bear the Throne of thy Lord above them. 18. That Day shall ye be brought to Judgment: not an act of yours that ye hide will be hidden.
30. (The stern command will say): "Seize ye him, and bind ye him, 31. "And burn ye him in the Blazing Fire. 32. "Further, make him march in a chain, whereof the length is seventy cubits! 33. "This was he that would not believe in Allah Most High.(1)
Christianity also teaches that those who do not believe in Jesus as their personal savior will perish in hell. The Gospel of John states:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)(2)
So, both faiths hold to a form of judgment for the non-believer. However, the reasons for judgment are very different. Islam believes that people are born as a kind of blank slate. They are not fallen and sinful beings, but they are not "saved" either. In order to be saved it is important to do good deeds to earn their "salvation".
Christianity holds that people are born with a sin nature that separates them from God. This nature means that human beings have a penchant and proclivity to sin that they inherited from the first man, Adam, after he sinned in the Garden of Eden. Further, it means that man is incapable of doing any work that will earn him salvation. Man must be transformed by the Spirit of God in order to be found holy enough to abide in God's presence.
Much of the differences in these truth claims can be seen in how each faith views the fall of Adam. Both Islam and Christianity believe that God created Adam in a Paradise as the first man, and that Adam disobeyed God by taking of a forbidden fruit.
Islam, though, holds Adam to be a prophet of God. As with most prophets in the Islamic faith, Adam should be sinless. It does not make sense to an Islamic viewpoint that a prophet of God would be sinful the way the average man is today. Norman Geisler, in his book Answering Islam writes,
"Muslim scholars are of the opinion that prophets are either completely sinless or at least free from all major sins or faults. Some orthodox Muslims claim that even the power of sinning does not exist in the prophets. For example, Ibn Khaldun, the classical Muslim scholar (d.1406) says that 'their characteristic mark is that before the coming revelation to them they were all found to be naturally good and sagacious, such men as shun blameworthy actions and all things unclean.' This, he believes 'is the meaning of their impeccability. (isma) Thus they seem to have an instinctive inclination to rise above things that are blameworthy and even shrink from them as though such things were repugnant to their born disposition."(3)
This is one example, though, of where we have a logical contradiction. If Adam was made perfect by God and part of a world in which no sin yet existed, and he willingly did sin, then how could he have "shunned blameworthy actions"? Many Muslim scholars try to resolve this by claiming that Adam didn't really sin, but merely had a lapse of judgment. This doesn't solve the issue, though. If Adam didn't commit a grievous sin, then how does one account for the introduction of evil in the world? Also, if directly disobeying a command of God is just a lapse in judgment, then how could anything be considered really sinful?
Now this type of tension in Islamic belief isn't merely restricted to the fall of Adam. Muslims run into a real problem with the problem of evil because of their insistence that God is so sovereign, every act originates with him - even evil ones! This type of extreme determinism is illustrated in a quote from the authoritative Islamic theologian Al-Maturidi (d.944A.D.) who writes:
"The sins of man occur by God's will (irada), wish (mashi'a), ordinance (qada'), and power (qadr), but not by His pleasure (rida), love (mahabba), and command (amr), according to His Word, be He exalted: 'He whom God wills to send astray, He maketh his bosom close and narrow' (6:125), and His Word: 'Yet ye will nothing, unless God wills it.'(76:31). If the creature were able to act by his own will, he could prevail over the will of God- be He exalted."(4)
You can see in the example above that we have only God's will in view here. Man cannot exercise his own volition. However, this means that every sin anyone commits, it was God who willed it and therefore forced the human to commit it. Thus God become the author of evil by instigating evil acts, and he becomes incredibly unjust in condemning men for committing the very acts that he willed them to do! (For the Christian position on evil see my page "Didn't God Create Evil, Too?")
I said at the start of this letter that in judging truth-claims one should use the same yardstick for all faiths. A good way of determining the validity of any truth claim is to test it two ways - is it consistent in all affirmations and beliefs and does it correspond with what we know to be true about the world. The Islam view of prophets being sinless is inconsistent with what it means to be human. Also, the position that Adam's action in Eden wasn't truly a sin demonstrates an inconsistent position of the Islamic faith. Further, the idea that God is ultimately responsible for all sin and evil on earth demonstrates the dissonance in the Islamic belief system.
I want to thank you again for taking the time to write and your willingness to investigate more fully the claims of both Islam and Christianity. I pray that you will look at the facts objectively and rationally and that in so doing you will find the truth.
Geisler, Norman and Saleeb, Abdul Answering Islam
Baker Books GrandRapids, Michigan (1993) p.51
Islam Edited by John Alden Williams
George Braziller, New York (1962) p.180