Misconceptions about Islam

Who is Allah?
Mary and the Trinity
Sola Scriptura
Nation of Islam
Sunni and Shi'ite
Five Pillars
Atheist Sam Harris

Mohammed and the Quraysh Lifting the Black Stone into the Kabah

Who is Allah?

Arabic is a Semitic language as is Hebrew. The word 'Allah' means simply...God:

"'elah,' 'god.' This Aramaic word is the equivalent of the Hebrew 'eloah.' It is a general term for 'God' in the Aramaic passages of the Old Testament, and it is a cognate form of the word 'allah,' the designation of deity used by the Arabs." (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary, p. 96).

Undoubtedly a moon-worshipper would refer to the 'moon' as 'eloah,' 'my god.' But Mohammed told people not to worship the moon: "And among his signs are the night, and the day, and the sun, and the moon. Bend not in adoration to the sun or the moon, but bend in adoration before God who created them both, if ye would serve him." (Sura 41:37).

The word for God as it appears in the Peshitta, the Aramaic Bible, is very similar, 'Alaha':

"And he pitched his tent there, and erected an altar, and called it El-Alaha di Israel (God, the God of Israel)." (Genesis 34:20, George M. Lamsa's translation of the Peshitta).

The moral of the story of the Satanic Verses is that the pagan Arabs would have been willing to accept Mohammed's preaching had he presented a hierarchical pantheon like the Jehovah's Witnesses', in which 'Allah' sat enthroned as the highest, but not the only, God. They already believed in 'Allah,' but thought he had companions. But this error cannot 'poison the well' of the word itself, since during their idolatrous phases, the children of Israel never ceased to believe in 'Jehovah,' they just added other deities alongside Him. The polytheists err is ascribing multiplicity to God. Monotheists cannot keep inventing a new word every time they do so:

The three great monotheistic religions did not arise independently, rather they share a common heritage. Historically, they are three shoots springing up from the same root, and they retain some common features: "The fundamental common feature shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims consists in belief in the one and only God, who gives life and meaning to all things. This faith in one God is a primeval truth that was already given to Adam. . .Hence Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the joint representatives before the world of faith in the one God; they share in a single grand world movement of monotheism." (Hans Kung, Christianity and the World Religions, pp. 86-87). It would be remarkable if the three great exponents of the existence of one, sole God, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, actually turned out to be pushing the claims of three different beings, rival claimants to the throne; how many fingers do you hold up when you count 'one'? But let us see.

Muslim believers are told to say, to the people of the Book, "Our God and your God is one. . ." (Koran Sura 29:45). From the perspective of the Koran, Muslims worship the same God as do Jews and Christians: "SAY: Will ye dispute with us about God? when He is our Lord and your Lord! We have our works and ye have your works; and we are sincerely His." (Koran, Sura 2:133). The God described in the Koran is, by the author's intention, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: "Were ye present when Jacob was at the point of death? when he said to his sons, ‘Whom will ye worship when I am gone?’ They said, ‘We will worship thy God and the God of thy fathers Abraham and Ismael and Isaac, one God, and to Him are we surrendered (Muslims).’" (Koran Sura 2:127). The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the true and living God. It's left to the reader's discernment to judge how much one can say falsely about this God before one is describing an alien God.

If a believer asks me, 'Do you know Jesus?' and I reply, 'Sure! Isn't he the guy who works at the Texaco station?' — we have a case of mistaken identity, a simple misunderstanding. The gas station attendant is 'another Jesus' in the simplest sense. The identity of the God of the Koran is not so simple.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet Mohammed ibn Abdallah knew very little about him, and misunderstood what he heard. He confuses the Holy Spirit with the angel Gabriel, a created being. God the Father is no father because Allah does not beget, and although Mohammed had heard that Jesus is the "word" of God, he does not understand what that means; he does not know Jesus is God the Son.

Someone who preached a 'Jesus' who was the prophet of Nazareth crucified under Pontius Pilate might yet be preaching 'another Jesus,' if what he says about Him is false on essential points. It is surprising how much passion is wasted on the question, 'is the God of the Bible the same God as the God of the Koran?' Surely the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the one true and living God. This is the God whose face Mohammed sought. Yet the reader of the Koran, disgusted with Mohammed's misunderstandings, distortions and false teaching about the divine nature, might well toss the book aside as a testament of an alien god.

Some in the evangelical world make this disjunction: a.) either Allah and Jehovah are the same God, and, a1.) thus, everything said about one is said about the other, or b.) Allah and Jehovah are different gods. These evangelicals insist upon b.), because a1.) is clearly wrong.  But a1.) is where the fallacy lies: if the Koran makes many false statements about God, and it does, it does not therefore follow that the God about whom the conversation revolves, who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is a 'different God.' Nevertheless some so insist:

"He [Ergun Caner] notes, 'I have never met one intelligent Muslim who ever said that Allah of the Koran and Jehovah of the Bible are the same God.'" (Connection Magazine, September 2002, 'Recalling 9-11: Former Muslim, Speaks Out Against "Oprahization"').

"I often say, as a Muslim, I have never heard this. Ever. No Muslim in his right mind would ever believe this. It's usually just some touchy-feely, scratch-n-sniff "Christian," quote unquote, who spouts this type of silliness. 'Hey, you know, we're talking about the same God.' There's never been one Muslim. And I've had now, I'm approaching my 100th debate.  I have never met a single Muslim who believes that the Allah of the Koran and the Jehovah God of the Bible are the same God. Never. (Ergun Caner, speaking on the Issues, Etc., radio program, 'Islam', 19:04).

"...I have never, and I repeat, I have never met one Muslim scholar — not one — who has ever said that the God of the Bible is the same as the Allah of the Koran. Not even in description, attributes, work, relation to man. Nothing is the same." (Ergun Caner, Faith and Family Broadcast)."

"'Oh, but Allah, Jehovah, it's the same God!' Huh? My brother and I do debates on university campuses. In forty-one debates I have never, I have never, did I say never?— I mean I have never run into one Muslim who ever said Allah of the Quran is the Biblical Jehovah, Adonai, El Gibbor, God of the Bible. Not one!" (Ergun Caner, The Gospel According to Oprah, 15:57  November 13, 2003).

Is it indeed true that "nothing is the same?" That the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that the God who commissioned Jonah to preach the overthrow of Nineveh, that the God who protected the 'Seven Sleepers' of Christian legend, actually has no point of contact with the living God? To say so overlooks the way the Koran was compiled: Mohammed ibn Abdallah was an aggregator more than an innovator. Mohammed had a very imperfect understanding of God, as did the Jews who tutored him, but evangelicals rarely say the Jews worship a different God from Jehovah. How can stories about God borrowed from the Jews and Christians, and repeated with very little editorial revision, have become stories about a 'different God' simply because an ill-informed narrator repeats them? They err in assuming the Koran is internally consistent and rigorously edited; it is neither.

It is standard operating procedure, when missionaries bring the gospel to an unreached people group, to rummage around amongst existing linguistic assets to find a suitable word for 'God:' "A cross-cultural illustration from the mission field is appropriate here. Missionary bishop Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) described the challenge of finding the right terms for proclaiming the gospel to a tribal culture for the first time. The missionary gathers information about what the tribe already understands about deity. After sorting through various local and territorial powers of the spirit world, he surfaces a concept of a strongest, highest or oldest god above those lesser forces. This is much closer to the Biblical idea of the one God, so it is a starting point." (Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God, p. 153). Is it realistic to demand that the word must be pristine, with no unsavory past, having always and only meant 'Jehovah,' and can it be guaranteed that no language-speaker has ever said anything about God that is inadequate or untrue? If we are not allowed to use a word with a checkered past, then the only people you can tell about God's love are people who already know Him. The missionary project is over.

To this day there are pagan survivals in Islam, for example, the adoration of a meteorite in the Kabah. The Muslims circumambulate this structure, and some even kiss the black rock, as the pagans did before them. It is a pagan practice to worship celestial objects:

"Then he removed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the places all around Jerusalem, and those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven." (2 Kings 23:5).

When a rock fell from heaven, the pagans marvelled at this visitation by one of their gods, because they worshipped these things. It is less apparent why a monotheist, such as one of the patriarchs, would erect a shrine for veneration of such a thing. Monotheists can of course wonder at the marvels of nature, like a butterfly wing, a snow-flake, or a meteorite; these testify to the artistry of their Creator, but the Kabah is not a natural history museum, it is a shrine for the adoration of a cult object, a rock. Arab Midianites were using the crescent symbol long before it became associated with Islam: "So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks. . .Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments, pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks." (Judges 8:21-26). Mohammed's religious practice, and his holy book the Koran, incorporate all manner of material invented elsewhere, from Jewish, Christian, and even pagan sources.

One might expect this material to be edited severely to produce uniformity; however, often it is not edited at all. The Christian tales of the 'Clay Birds' and the 'Seven Sleepers' appear in the Koran, without any visible editing. That these stories must mean something different in their new context than in the original is open to dispute. Likewise with those aspects of Islam which represent the stubborn survival of pagan Arab customs, like adoration of a rock. Rock-worship is one of the more disappointing forms of religious devotion, because in the nature of things rocks do not do very much. Affection directed their way is unrequited. A devotee expecting a return for his diligent fussing over an inert, lithic lump is bound to be disappointed. And there were dissatisfied customers, even in the times of ignorance, including the Arab who expressed his ingratitude to a rock named Sa'd in poetry:

". . .an image called Sa'd, a lofty rock in a desert plain in their country. They have a story that one of their tribesmen took some of his stock camels to the rock to stand by it so as to acquire its virtue. When the camels, which were grazing-camels that were not ridden, saw the rock and smelt the blood which had been shed on it they shied from it and fled in all directions. . .He went in search of them, and when he had collected them together once more he said:

"We came to Sa'd to improve our fortunes
But Sa'd dissipated them. We have nothing to do with Sa'd.
Sa'd is nothing but a rock on a bare height.
It cannot put one right or send one wrong." (The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, translated  by A. Guillaume, p. 37).

Given the unsatisfactory performance of rock deities, why incorporate the Kabah with its meteorite into Islam at all? Mohammed was by intent a monotheist who sought to worship the one true God. Why did he drag so much paganism along with him? An inert rock is as far as the east is from the west, from the living God. Perhaps the temptation of the 'Satanic verses' never left him. If he wanted peace with the Quraysh, he had to take their sacred rock in the bargain. This was to be a recurring pattern. When the Shi'ites march in procession, whipping themselves, purportedly in mourning for Hussein or Ali, realize that their ancestors were doing that same thing, for thousands of years, long before either Ali or Hussein was a gleam in his daddy's eyes. These practices continue to exercise a 'pull' on believers which the outsider can scarcely fathom.

"And then he said, 'We pray in the name of the God of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and all the other isms.' That's when I looked up. Cause he wasn't talking to anybody I know. Please listen to me very carefully. What have we heard on every television channel with every talking head in the years that have gone since, in the Afghani War, the Iraqi War. Why is everybody fighting, they say. Allah, Jehovah, it's the same god. Fifty debates, forty-eight debates actually, to be authentic.

"In forty-eight debates with Muslims, Hindi, and Bahai, I have never ever ever EVER met a single Muslim who ever believed that the Allah of the Koran and the God Jehovah Adonai of the Bible are the same god. If I would have heard you say that and I was a Christian I would have been offended. As a Muslim we consider that blasphemy. There's not a Muslim on the planet that believes this. Not a one. It is what I call the Oprah-ization of culture. Right? Cause who was there at Yankee Stadium? The great high-priestess of our culture, Oprah. And there she sits and everybody's like, hmm-mmm, that's right.

"If you say that 'Allah, oh, it's just the Arabic name for God.' And listen, this is the biggest fight I have these days. This is the biggest argument. Not with Muslims on this issue because they agree with me, but with, God help up, well-meaning, well-intentioned, but misguided Christians, missionaries, who say, 'Come on, Allah is just the Arabic word for God.' Oh my Father. You cannot read the Koran and you cannot understand the Bible and ever come to that conclusion."

(Ergun Caner, Seattle Apologetics Seminar, 'Apologetics of the Bible, Islam,' Islam101.mpg, 24:34-26:43)

A Repentant Jihadi
Danger Warning
The Bible on Lying
Damage Assessment
Those Hyper-Calvinists
Turkish TV
Ergun 'Mehmet' Caner

While Ergun Caner can speak for his own strong feeling that he first came to know the true and living God when he became a Christian, he cannot speak for the many Muslims who disagree with his claim. He conflates two questions: who is saved, and the semantic question of whether the God of the Koran, who is identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is that god or another. A negative answer to the first question cannot answer the linguistic question. Arabic-speaking Christians use the word 'Allah.' It is a neutral word; the word is not tainted by the unlettered prophet's misconceptions and compromises. Otherwise, of what God is William Lane Craig proving the existence when he employs the kalam cosmological argument, which he says was originated by al-Ghazali?: "The soundness of the kalam cosmological argument is thus entirely independent of me. The argument was, after all, defended by the medieval Muslim theologian al-Ghazali almost 900 years before I was even born. If the argument is sound, it was sound then." (William Lane Craig, Come Let Us Reason, Kindle location 1000). If the argument proves the existence of the wrong God, this is a problem.

Mary and the Trinity

This next misconception, if indeed it is one, is, not a casual misunderstanding arrived at by insufficiently curious Christians, but a barrier to communication built into the Koran itself. Many readers of the Koran come away with the impression that Mohammed believed the Christian Trinity to consist, not in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but in Jesus, Mary and God. They offer as evidence:

Mohammed condemned belief in the Trinity:

"O ye people of the Book! overstep not bounds in your religion; and of God, speak only truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and his Word which he conveyed into Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from himself. Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not, ‘Three:’ (there is a Trinity) — Forbear — it will be better for you. God is only one God! Far be it from His glory that He should have a son! His, whatever is in the Heavens, and whatever is in the Earth! And God is a sufficient Guardian." (Sura 4:169)

Mohammed rebuts the idea that Jesus and Mary are "two Gods:"

"And when God shall say — ‘O Jesus, Son of Mary: hast thou said unto mankind — “Take me and my mother as two Gods, beside God?”’ He shall say — ‘Glory be unto Thee! it is not for me to say that which I know to be not the truth; had I said that, verily thou wouldest have known it: Thou knowest what is in me, but I know not what is in Thee; for Thou well knowest things unseen!" (Sura 5:116).

This one passage seems to connect the two ideas:

They surely are Infidels who say, ‘God is the third of three:’ for there is no God but one God: and if they refrain not from what they say, a grievous chastisement shall light on such of them as are Infidels. Will they not, therefore, be turned unto God, and ask pardon of Him? since God is Forgiving, Merciful! The Messiah, Son of Mary, is but an Apostle; other Apostles have flourished before him; and his mother was a just person: they both ate food. Behold! how we make clear to them the signs! then behold how they turn aside!" (Sura 5:77-79).

This on its face looks like evidence of gross ignorance on Mohammed's part. What a melancholy thought to suppose that all the Christian martyrs sent to their reward by this man's revelations, including those Nigerians recently caught up in the frenzy over the Danish cartoons, died because someone did not have one clue in the world! It would be scant exoneration if Mohammed ever encountered some little band who did so believe. A traveller encountering the Druse or Alawites who mistook their views for normative Islam would be proving his ignorance, not his perspicacity.

To summarize the evidence:

Can anything be salvaged from this mess? But some Muslims deny that Mohammed misunderstood the Christian trinity, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, realizing that it makes him look like a fool if he did. It is at least barely possible they are right. The Koran's gift to the reader is vivid pictorial imagery, sometimes of great beauty. Where it receives a D-minus is in 'organization.' "The Qur'an has many random verses in a chapter. This randomness gives credence to the teachings that individual verses were revealed at different times, leading to differing topics in some immediate verses." (Hussein Hajji Wario, Cracks in the Crescent, p. 164).

The traditional ordering of the Suras is based, with a few exceptions, on length. Within each Sura the reader seeking dense Pauline argumentation seeks in vain. In fact the reader expecting any relation of logical consequence between one verse and the next may be disappointed. Mohammed was illiterate, so one skill he never picked up in grade school is 'making an outline.' Whatever the reader expects, what he finds is choppy. While some suras tell a connected story, more often the Koran jumps from one topic to the next without transition. Much of what organization the Koran does have may be owing to the efforts of its compilers, working after Mohammed's death.

The reader who perceives the above-quoted passage from Sura 5 as an 'argument' naturally expects Mohammed, having condemned the Christian revelation of the Trinity, to move on to analyzing what is wrong with it. Since all that is presented by way of rebuttal is the explanation that Jesus and His mother are nothing more than human beings who "ate food," the reader concludes Mohammed understood the Trinity to be 'God, Jesus and Mary.' More habituated readers realize that there is little sustained argumentation in the Koran, so the odds are against this passage constituting an 'argument' at all. It is possible that Mohammed intends to condemn one idea: the oddly described Trinity (God is not one person of the Trinity!), and then goes on his way condemning another idea: that Jesus and Mary are both gods. This lack of consequence and density has sometimes moved detractors to observe that the Koran is a book remarkable for the circumstance that it contains not a single idea. It is in any case a mistake to read the Koran as if it were logically structured, with every statement flowing in sequence from the one before it.

Mohammed's great insight, if so it can be called, is that all the prophets delivered exactly the same message: "No apostle have we sent before thee to whom we did not reveal that 'Verily there is no God beside me: therefore worship me.'" (Koran, Sura 21:25). They are mimeograph machines, each delivering exactly the same message as his predecessors. This is not an empirical discovery, as if Obadiah, say, really was handed the identical burden from the Lord as was Isaiah. This insistence that all prophets must say the same thing is not tolerance, as Muslims insist; tolerance would allow them to say what they have to say. Rather, it is a bed of Procrustes; whatever does not fit the paradigm is lopped off. Did Jesus go beyond the standard message of avoiding idolatry to teach about His unique person and work? Excise it. The only prophecy allowed to stand is the edited version in the Koran, which has been trimmed down to comply with standards.

A third possibility is that Mohammed deliberately misrepresented the Christian trinity for polemical purposes. After all, the target audience for these representations are not the Christians who would object to them, few of whom had any interest in adopting Islam in any case, but rather heathen Arabs, who probably knew little about Christianity and would have willingly swallowed anything. The intent is to ridicule, not to engage. As an example of the strategy, this early twentieth century author must have had access to all relevant texts, but still says this:

"In the Church it led first to the deification of Christ (i.e. the Messiah) as they vanquisher of Satan; afterwards, owing to a compromise with heathenism, the Trinity was adopted to correspond with the three-fold godhead,— father, mother, and son,— the place of the mother deity being taken by the Holy Ghost, which was originally conceived as a female power (the Syrian Ruha being of the feminine gender). . .The medieval Jewish thinkers therefore made redoubled efforts to express with utmost clearness the doctrine of God's unity. In this effort they received special encouragement from the example of the leaders of Islam, whose victorious march over the globe was a triumph for the one God of Abraham over the triune God of Christianity." (Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 87, Kindle location 1353).

Certainly this twentieth century Jewish author had never encountered any Christian who told him of a 'Father, Mother, and Son,' yet he believes that presenting such an idea will discredit Christianity. One would like to think people would not do such things, but if the Muslims were capable of killing those who disagreed with them, and they certainly were, would they be incapable of misrepresenting their views? So, to recapitulate, the possibilities are that, if Mohammed did indeed assert that the Christian trinity consists of God, Mary, and Jesus, which may or may not have been what he intended to communicate, then he did so either from gross ignorance and lack of access to the sources, or from a deliberate agenda. Certainly in any case the result, dropping into the laps of modern Muslim apologists as a divine revelation, leaves them with the difficult task of trying to convince Christians they believe in something they've never heard of.

Or had they heard of it, at a minimum? Christians worship Jesus as God, yet what would have given Mohammed the idea that anyone worshipped Mary? He had, after all, never witnessed a procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe! Mariolatry is advancing not declining; Thomas Aquinas never believed in the Immaculate Conception, and it was not until 1950 that the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven was declared as doctrine by the Roman Catholic Church.

He lived too soon to have read his accusation in Chick Comix, which reports, "Poor Mary, her heart is broken...by the very ones who love her." The comic goes on to condemn worship of the "satanic mother goddess." Yet the Statement of Faith on the Chick Comix web-site reads, "God is one, eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are infinite in glory, wisdom, holiness, justice, power and love." So accusations levelled against others of worshipping Mary as a goddess need not always be diagnostic of a mistaken enumeration of the Trinity.

Contemporary Roman Catholics have erected a stair-case of worship, with gradated degrees of worship appropriate to each level. The highest level of worship is reserved to God. Mary receives 'hyperdulia,' one rung down. But in the Bible, there is no stair-case, just a cliff. None is to be worshipped but God. But even in Mohammed's day the practice of some may have begun to deviate from the Biblical norm.

Arabia was not an integrated part of the Roman Empire; no Patriarch enforced orthodoxy amongst the Christians Mohammed encountered. In this it resembled contemporary America. Mohammed's information is often heterodox. These heresies appear at random, regardless of whether they advance Mohammed's program or retard it. He borrows his account of the crucifixion from the docetists, who denied that Christ was crucified in fact. That Jesus of Nazareth died upon a cross is one of the best-attested facts of history; even the pagans assent:

"Again, their first lawgiver taught them that they were all brothers, when once they had committed themselves so far as to renounce the gods of the Greeks, and worship that crucified sophist, and live according to his laws." (Lucian, 2nd century A.D., Death of Peregrinus, quoted p. 257, A Treasury of Early Christianity, Anne Fremantle).

What troubled the docetists about the crucifixion was, not that they denied Jesus was God incarnate, but rather that they confessed He was. What could be remarkable about a mere man suffering death by torture? Nor was such a death problematic for a man of God, of whom the letter to Hebrews says, "Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy." (Hebrews 11:35-38). Starting with the premise of Moses' purity code, which teaches that blood defiles, and death defiles, they could not wrap their minds around the idea of a purely holy God, around whom the seraphim sing 'Holy, Holy, Holy,' stained with blood. So they denied it, teaching that he was crucified only in semblance. Against their denial John pitted his eye-witness testimony, that a soldier pierced the Lord's side and "blood and water" came out. They had similar concerns about His birth, which they reconfigured as an unstained transit, like 'water through a pipe.' Mohammed, who believed neither in the Mosaic purity code nor in the deity of Jesus Christ, borrowed their account of the crucifixion. The editorial process that crafted the Koran is a chute not a filter; everything that comes into the hopper lands in the Koran, everything Mohammed heard, even if it runs counter to his agenda. Even more strangely, he borrowed the apocryphal tale of Jesus sculpting clay birds and breathing life into them. He may, like Humpty-Dumpty, have felt that when he tells a story, it means what he wants it to mean. But it's hard to get around that story meaning what it means. The people who wrote that story did not belong to the apostles' circle; it is not authentic. Yet the people who wrote that story sought to communicate that Jesus Christ is God. Can Mohammed borrow their story without also borrowing the moral of the story?

The most advanced Mariolatrists of the day, whom Mohammed could have encountered, are described by Epiphanius, writing in the late fourth century, who documents this heresy in Arabia:

"For I have heard in turn that others, who are out of their minds on the subject of this holy Ever-virgin, have done their best and are doing their best, in the grip both of madness and of folly, to substitute her for God. For they say that certain Thracian women there in Arabia have introduced this nonsense, and that they bake a loaf in the name of the Ever-virgin, gather together, and both attempt an excess and undertake a forbidden, blasphemous act in the holy Virgin's name, and offer sacrifice in her name with woman officiants." (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III, Section VII, 23, 3-4, p. 618).

Epiphanius exhorts these deluded worshippers: "But we must not honor the saints to excess; we must honor their Master. It is time for the error of those who have gone astray to cease. Mary is not God and does not have her body from heaven but by human conception, though, like Isaac, she was provided by promise." (The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III, Section VII, 23, 9-11, p. 619). Mohammed might have had these women's grand-daughters in mind when he wrote Sura 5. He was right to condemn this view, but wrong to generalize: as goes the mother, so with her Son. Truth is surely a defense against the charge of idolatry! Nevertheless, even these deluded heretics are not accused of identifying the trinity as Mary, Jesus, and God. In fact there is no such heresy; there never was.

While there is legitimate ground for criticism in the practice of some self-described Christians even as early as the seventh century, if Mohammed knew of bizarre cults with deviant practices, he should not have tried to 'mainstream' them. . .unless he simply did not know by what landmarks the mainstream flowed. None of the imaginative children at Fatima or any where else ever said, or thought, that any of this has anything to do with the trinity. If you had asked them to define the trinity, they would have responded, 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit.' Muslims resent it when their critics respond to 'Islamic' ideas, which they heard from the Ahmadis or Druse, because they perceive these sects as heretical. This is even worse. No flavor or form of Christianity has ever presented a 'trinity' of God, Mary and Jesus, yet the Koran implies otherwise.

So the verdict on this 'misconception' must be mixed. Christian interlocutors of Muslim apologists should realize and concede, however, that the Koran does not state in so many words that the trinity is Mary, Jesus and God. Rather, this is an inference drawn from the text. It may be a natural inference, but it is not an inescapable one.


Need a Koran?

Sola Scriptura

The Protestant Reformation lifted up the Bible as the sole standard of truth in doctrine. Modern Christian 'fundamentalists' follow this same rule.

It is sometimes assumed, in the newspapers, that the people called 'Muslim fundamentalists' follow a similar rule. Just as Christian fundamentalists have gone 'back to the Bible,' they surmise, their Muslim 'counterparts' must represent a 'back to the Koran' movement. Although past history does reveal Islamic restoration movements centering around Koranic minimalism, such is evidently not the case with today's 'Muslim fundamentalists.' Those one reads about in the papers are great believers in extra-Koranic traditions. Much of the Taliban's esoteric legislation finds its support not in the Koran but in the hadith, which legislates beard length among many other things:

"Narrated Nafi': Ibn Umar said, The Prophet said, 'Do the opposite of what the pagans do. Keep the beards and cut the moustaches short.'" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 780).

The assumption one 'fundamentalist' is much like another was recently on display in the frenzy over the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed. Reporters sought, but found, no such prohibition in the Koran. True, but in the hadith Mohammed counts the painters as the first to be thrown into the fire.

The sects differ as to the authenticity and value of this material. As with so many other things, the Koran and the hadith argue both for, and also against, the sufficiency of the Koran:


"We have neglected nothing in the Book..." (Koran 6:38).
"He [Mohammed] said, "O Men, the fire is ready. Subversive attacks are advancing like the waves of darkness. By God, I shall not be held responsible for aught of this. I have never allowed anything but that which the Qur'an has made legitimate, and I have never forbidden aught which the Qur'an has not forbidden. God's curse is upon those who take graves for their mosques." (Quoted p. 501, The Life of Muhammad, Muhammad H. Haykal).

On the Other Hand, Insufficient

"Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: 'Umar said, "I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, "We do not find the Verses of the Rajam (stoning to death) in the Holy Book," and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that Allah has revealed.'" (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 816.)

William Blake, Illustration to Dante's Inferno

Nation of Islam

Who are the 'Nation of Islam?' Are they Muslims? Or is this a trick question, like 'Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?'

They don't eat pork, which was a good enough indicator of Muslim observance for the Spanish Inquisition, as shown by that body's recorded interrogations. But in his address to the Million Man March, Minister Louis Farrakhan referred to a party known as Fard Muhammad whom he identifies as the Mahdi. Claiming this status was not unusual in the Muslim startups of the Great Depression; Noble Drew Ali, founder of the Moorish Science Temple, claimed to be the Mahdi. But who did the Nation understand the Mahdi to be? According to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the Mahdi is none other than "God in Person:"

"The name Mahdi, or Mahadiah, means One coming at the end of the world, self-independent and self-guided and comes to guide others. He, Himself, is Self-Guided. This is God in Person. You find this in the 22nd Surah of the Qur'an." (The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, 'Explanation of Master Fard Muhammad,' http://muhammadspeaks.com).

This was the religion Malcolm X adopted: "They were all Muslims, followers of a man they described to me as 'The Honorable Elijah Muhammad,' a small, gentle man, whom they sometimes referred to as 'The Messenger of Allah.' . . . He had moved with his family to Detroit, and there had met a Mr. Wallace D. Fard who he claimed was 'God in person.'" (The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley, p. 161). Is this Islam?

"Now we are not ignorant of the Law, because we received it not by prophecy nor was it sent to us in a book that we might say we could not understand it or that we failed to receive it. No, but Allah has come to us Himself, to teach us out of His mouth in the person of our Saviour FARD MOHAMMED; whom we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled Him lest we have excuses and say He was not real."

(The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, 'Letter to the Ministry Class,' December 3, 1934, http://muhammadspeaks.com).

Mainstream Muslim have a problem with this concept: "He soon convinced himself about Fard's divinity. 'The greatest and mightiest God who appeared on the earth was Master W. D. Fard,' Malcolm would come to profess. 'He came from the East to the West, appearing at a time when the history and prophecy that is written was coming to realization, as the non-white people all over the world began to rise, and as the devil white civilization, condemned by Allah, was, through its devilish nature, destroying itself.'" (Manning Marable, Malcolm X, p. 88). Malcolm had drifted away by the time of his assassination at the hands of loyalists to Elijah Muhammad, as would many others, but this sect still has followers to the present day, loyal to the original teachings.



Looking for a biography of the prophet Mohammed?:

Washington Irving
Mohammed and His

In principle Muslims believe that Mohammed ibn Abdallah was a man favored by God. However, there are disturbing tendencies toward deification of this man, not least in his own works, where latterly 'God and his apostle' came to be melded together. Notice in this news article, a mentally ill man was convicted of 'blasphemy' for claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed:

"A mentally ill British man has been sentenced to death in Pakistan after being convicted of blasphemy charges, defense lawyers said Friday.

"Mohammed Asghar was arrested in 2010 in Rawalpindi, near Pakistan's capital of Islamabad, for claiming to be the Prophet Muhammad in letters that were later produced at his trial, prosecutor Javed Gul said. But Sarah Belal, the director of the Justice Project Pakistan, a legal advocacy group that previously defended Asghar, said the case was really a property dispute and that Asghar suffers from mental illness." (Pakistan: Briton sentenced to death for blasphemy, by Rebecca Santana, Jan. 24, 2014 9:23 AM EST, Islamabad).

How can one mere man's claim to be another mere man constitute blasphemy? He no more committed blasphemy than if he had claimed to be Napoleon, not to mention the absence of a criminal mind.


When asked to explain Mohammed ibn Abdallah's assertion that the Koran confirms prior scriptures, Muslims will often explain that it would do so, except these prior scriptures have been corrupted and thus, alas, are no longer in sync with the Koran. Is this plausible? Can this possibly be what Mohammed meant?

Return to Answering Islam...

Sunni and Shi'ite

Islam is riven in competing sects, the two principal divisions being Sunni (a substantial majority) and Shi'ite. This split initially began as a conflict over the principle of succession of the leaders of the community after Mohammed ibn Abdallah. The Shi'ites, partisans of Ali, wanted a succession based on hereditary descent from the prophet, while the Sunnis preferred to allow the community to elect its leadership. By this point, however, the difference between these two groups has snow-balled. No viewer of the processions bewailing the deaths of the Shi'ite martyrs, complete with bleeding self-flagellants, can fail to be reminded of the pre-Islamic religions prevalent in that part of the world, which were also mourning religions, who bewailed, not the death of Ali and Hussein, but that of Baal. The Bible-reader cannot fail to be reminded of Elijah on Mt. Carmel, "And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them." (1 Kings 18:28). They are still doing it today, although Baal still does not hear nor answer.

Five Pillars

The five pillars of Islam: the Shahada or creed, Salat or prayer (five times daily recitation in Arabic whether known or unknown), Zakat or almsgiving, Sawm or fasting (from dawn to dusk during one lunar month of the year), and Hajj or pilgrimage (to Mecca), are often presented as an organizing principle of Islam. However this amalgam is a classic example of an ill-sorted collection, combining a belief, in one God with one spokesman, with an odd lot of practices, one of which, pilgrimage, is performed only by a minority of Muslims and is really not mandatory except for those who can afford it. Rather than bringing clarity, the 'five pillars' are an after-the-fact effort to bring order to a mass of material with little by way of intrinsic organization.

Atheist Sam Harris

Seven Sleepers, Russian IconSam Harris is one of the New Atheists. In his view, Christianity and Islam are two ships passing in the night, with no point of contact:

"Nothing that a Christian and Muslim can say to each other will render their beliefs mutually vulnerable to discourse, because the very tenets of their faith have immunized them against the power of conversation." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 45).

You wouldn't know from his description that the Koran teaches Jesus Christ, the Messiah, was born of a virgin. This misconception, that these two religions are simply unrelated to one another and have nothing to say to each other, is commonly found among the information-impoverished: people who have difficulty reading, who are not all that interested, etc.