Why do I believe in Islam?

AT SOME point whilst I was still at school my heart began to turn away from Christianity. I believe a large part of this was teenage selfishness – seeing life in a wholly negative light, despite its reality. And maybe, too, there was a shyness of my beliefs. I remember Frasier from St. Andrews congratulating me on my confirmation one lunchtime at school and feeling a little embarrassed by it.

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Church Rejection of Books in the Bible

THE QUESTION asked of me regarding the acceptance of one book of the Bible and rejection of others, could equally be asked of the various denominations of the Christian Church. For in fact it is the case that there is great difference between denominations even now with regard to which books are accepted as canonical and which are not. It is also the case that there has been great debate historically on the matter of the canonical books of the Bible.

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‘How can you accept one book of the Bible and reject all the other?’

THIS IS a question I was once asked when I sought to draw attention to the teachings of the Letter of James. This has been my way on various occasions, for historic parallels have been drawn between early Judaic-Christianity and Islam. The question, of course, is a perfectly fair one and it is one which I intend to address here. The truth is that I do not accept this book whilst rejecting all the others. I make reference to it because I find it very interesting, in the same way that other sources interest me, but I do not ‘accept’ it as authentic on its own or in the place of others.

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“What about the terrible way Muslims behave?”

THE NATURE of the news media is that in general it only reports bad news; the exceptions may include sports news, visits by statesmen and royalty, finance news, and the like. We would not expect to see a report on the news dealing with the wonderful weather which hit Albania today, or the absence of war in Utah, or the revelation that a politician was totally uncorrupt. We do not need, apparently, to be told such things. Journalists are not in the business of reporting good news; that’s the job of those lovely Disk Jockeys on Radio 2.

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“Islam does not strike us as a very tolerant religion”

TO CONSIDER the issue of tolerance, we must work in the light of the teachings of the religion, not with the situation of the day in mind. For while we may wish to argue that Christianity today is a tolerant religion, this could not be said of all times in history. If Islam were to be held as untrue because of intolerance in some societies today, would Christianity then be held to be untrue because of its intolerance in the fifteenth century?

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“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the Cross.” John Stott

DURING MY days of ignorance, when caught in the grip of sin, I used to say, ‘God curse me, let me burn in hell.’ As an agnostic living in the slipstream of a contemporary reinterpretation of heaven and hell, such a remark was so easily said. It was as if to say two things: I can’t help my sinfulness, and hell couldn’t be all that bad really. Indeed, many Christians today no longer think of hell in the traditional terms of centuries (even decades) past. There is ample evidence of this in Christian books: I find that hell is often described merely as a feeling of alienation from God. The above sentiment expressed by John Stott, a Preacher at London’s All Souls, is one I have heard more than once from Christian quarters. Only a God who had suffered as mankind suffers, the argument goes, could have any right to judge them.

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“Insha Allah?” You mean, “Whatever.”

OF THE Christians, I have only ever heard Roman Catholics use the phrase God Willing. We just need to turn the pages of English history to discover that there is good reason for this. It was only a few centuries ago that the Anglican Church engaged in theological debate on the topic of freewill and divine decree. The conclusion they came to is obvious when we consider how alien those two words are to the vocabulary of the Church of England.

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The Qur’an misunderstands the Trinity

I HAVE dipped into several books on Islam authored by Christians and the most common charge seems to be that the Qur’an misunderstands the Trinity. Christians do not worship three gods as Muslims often claim, these authors argue, but one God made up of three co-equal parts. This claim, I believe, is itself based on a misunderstanding of Islam’s teaching on Tawhid (the unity of God) and shirk (associating partners with God).

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The descriptive miracles of the Qur’an

THE QUR’AN addresses those who do not believe in God and asks them to consider the world around them, in which the signs of creation are evident. This is how the non-Muslim, A.J. Arberry, translates one such verse:

‘Have not the unbelievers then beheld that the heavens and the earth were a mass all sewn up, then We unstitched them and of water fashioned every living thing? Will they not believe?’ (21:30)

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“If that had been said about Islam, there would have been an outcry.”

It is an undeniable fact that Christians and Christianity are often derided in the popular press, in comedy, in literature and numerous other outlets. More often than not these occurrences go unchallenged and even unquestioned. When the attack is on Islam by contrast, the argument goes, the response is one of public outrage. ‘They would never have got away with saying that about Muslims.’

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The way they treat their women…

“I CAN’T believe how many black men are becoming Muslim in London… after the way they treat their women.” I once heard this statement being made one evening a long time ago, before I knew anything about Islam. The above statement makes an assumption about Islam, even though it does not assert that assumption directly. ‘They’ is supposed to refer to Muslims; the statement suggests that if a man becomes a Muslim he must accordingly treat women in a way which is presumably poor.

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“In Islam, sinners will face judgement without forgiveness”

Nicky Gumbel, 1994, Searching Issues, Kingsway Publications, England p.31

I WAS reading Searching Issues by Nicky Gumbel (of Alpha / Holy Trinity Brompton fame) recently and I came across the above statement in the second chapter, ‘What About Other Religions?‘ The question I want to address here is whether this is true. The actual context of his remark, I think, arises from a different theological perspective. To quote more fully, Gumbel writes:

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The Ethnic Religion

ONE OF the biggest disservices to Islam has been to put it into the ‘Ethnic religion’ category in the thoughts of many, along with Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, but probably not Judaism. Many people consider Islam the religion of Pakistanis (which is odd, as it has its roots in Arabia).

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Blank Canvas

A friend sent me an article in the last few days by a sister about her choice to wear hijab. It was like others I had read before: a defensive response to the perceptions of others. ‘So next time you see me,’ the author concludes, ‘don’t look at me sympathetically. I am not under duress or a male-worshipping female captive from those barbarous Arabic deserts. I’ve been liberated.’

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The tiniest spark

Today I felt a discomfort in my soul, like on another day a week or two ago. There was no reason for it really, but for a moment, seeking something in common with my peers, I complained aloud about my Project Manager. I fed upon my own boss’ cynicism about her abilities and complained that the translation that I was supposed to be working from was incomplete, and that she had written for me a note of what I had already explained for her on a yellow post-it note on my folder. ‘How stupid,’ was my implication. Ten seconds later, having said it, regret filled my mind. I felt like sending an e-mail to a brother. ‘I’m becoming no better than a kaffer [disbeliever].’ I didn’t write it. I questioned my intention. But I thought it. ‘I should know better. Maybe that makes me worse.’

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The need to express gratitude

This morning my car wouldn’t start, so I had to call out the AA. It is funny how something foreign can become so familiar within such a short space of time, such that something we could once do without becomes something we take for granted. And it is funny how when something is always there, we don’t thank God for it as we do when something new comes along. We pray for safe travels when we go on holiday, and thank Him on our arrival; but the daily trip to work and back becomes a routine normality which we don’t thank Him for. We pray for sound employment, and thank Him when He responds; but we take our daily bread without the same words of thanks. We ask for good health when struck down with illness, and thank Him when we recover; but as we go about our everyday business in good health, do we forget to thank Him, who has power over all things?

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