Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Muslim preacher sentenced to 11 years in jail for blasphemy for burning a Bible (June 16, 2013)

(Reuters) - A Cairo court sentenced an Egyptian Muslim preacher to 11 years in jail for blasphemy on Sunday for burning a Bible during a protest last year outside the U.S. embassy.
See the following link for the full article:
Grace and peace,

Monday, June 10, 2013

Martin Luther on the life and practices of the "Turks" (i.e. Muslims of the Ottoman Empire) and the God worshipped by them

Before I resume my review of James R. White's, What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur'an, I wanted to share an article that I found online last week; an article that includes two translations from Luther's corpus that I had never read; an article that I think many will find to be quite interesting. The article is from the Lutheran journal, Word & World (Volume XVI.2, Spring 1996, pp. 250-266). A pdf copy can be accessed (and downloaded) via the following link:

In addition to the translations of the Preface to the Libellus de ritu et moribus Turcorum (1530), and Preface to Bibliander’s Edition of the Qur’an (1543), a valuable introduction is provided. From the introduction we read:

Throughout this period, guided by his perspective of the two realms, civil and spiritual, and the duties appropriate to each, Luther repeatedly argued for the obligation of obedience to all secular authority as instituted by God for the preservation of order, going so far as to say, even if it be the authority of Turkish captors. Accordingly, Luther was often charged with being responsible for a perceived reluctance on the part of Lutherans to fight against the Turkish invaders and thus for hindering good morale on the part of the defenders of Europe. At the same time Luther’s writings consistently show him to have been more concerned with Christians at home than with the Turk, with matters of theodicy and with a call for contrition and inward preparation on the part of a Christian population in great need of repentance before the present catastrophe, which he saw to be the punishment of God. (Page 252)

The authors then briefly comment on a few of Luther's polemical treatments against the "Turks", and follow that section with:

Whatever must be granted in Luther’s language in this document [On War Against the Turk] to the context, to the extremities of the political situation, and the rhetoric of war, still in the almost contemporary work included below in Part II we see a much more balanced discussion. (Page 254) 


...we see that the religion of the Turks or Muhammad is far more splendid in ceremonies—and, I might almost say, in customs—than ours, even including that of the religious or all the clerics. The modesty and simplicity of their food, clothing, dwellings, and everything else, as well as the fasts, prayers, and common gatherings of the people that this book reveals are nowhere seen among us—or rather it is impossible for our people to be persuaded to them. Furthermore, which of our monks, be it a Carthusian (they who wish to appear the best) or a Benedictine, is not put to shame by the miraculous and wondrous abstinence and discipline among their religious? Our religious are mere shadows when compared to them, and our people clearly profane when compared to theirs. Not even true Christians, not Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display. This is the reason why many persons so easily depart from faith in Christ for Muhammadanism and adhere to it so tenaciously. I sincerely believe that no papist, monk, cleric, or their equal in faith would be able to remain in their faith if they should spend three days among the Turks. (Page 259)

Moving on to the God worshipped by the "Turks", we read the following from Luther's Large Catechism:

These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people upon earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they have do not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illuminated and blessed by any gifts of the Holy Spirit. (The Book of Concord, "The Large Catechism", 1959, p. 419 - bold emphasis mine.)

As with so much of Luther's thought/writings, I come away with a strong sense of tension between some of his more basic reflections on the "Turks", and his polemical outbursts.

With that said, I hope that some of my readers will find the above resources as interesting as I have.

Grace and peace,


Monday, June 3, 2013

Surah 4.157 - some further reflections and a resource list

My interest in Surah 4.157 was in a very real sense renewed after reading James R. White's, What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur'an. I have posted two installments of my review of the book (first; second), and the second installment was on chapter 6, a chapter which focused on Surah 4.156, 157 ("forty Arabic words"). In that installment I stated, "Chapter 6 (pages 129-143) is the most disappointing of the book", and then offered 4 reasons for that conviction. I would now like to add yet one more: Mr. White's interpretation of Surah 4.157 makes constructive dialogue between Christians and Muslims virtually impossible. I say this, because if a Christian adopts Mr. White's interpretation (and most do so), then only one conclusion can be reached: Surah 4.157 is utterly false; and if a Muslim adopts the same interpretation (and most do so), then only one conclusion can be reached: the Bible on the issue of the crucifixion and death of Jesus is utterly false. When conclusions of this nature are embraced, any possibility of constructive dialogue vanishes. And further, any chance of objective reflection from either side of the issue also vanishes; which in turn means that when competent scholars present solid evidence such interpretations are severely flawed, they are almost universally ignored. Fortunately, there are some Christians and Muslims who are objective enough to recognize such flaws, and I am in debt to these folk for my understanding of Surah 4.157—i.e. the Qur'an does not deny the physical crucifixion and death of Jesus—which happens to be the most internally consistent interpretation. I shall now turn to the Qur'an itself, and let it speak to us on this issue:

It is He who has sent down the Book to you. Some of its verses are clear [muh'kamātun] and precise in meaning they are the basis of the Book while others are allegorical [mutashābihātun]. Those with deviation in their hearts pursue the allegorical, so as to create dissension by seeking to explain it: but no one knows its meaning except God. Those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say, We believe in it: it is all from our Lord. But only the wise take heed. (Surah 3.7 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

Some clear [muh'kamātun] ayat:

Do not say that those who are killed in Gods cause are dead; they are alive, but you are not aware of it. (Surah 2.154 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

God said, O Jesus, I shall cause you to die and will raise you up to Me and shall clear you [of the calumnies] of the disbelievers, and shall place those who follow you above those who deny the truth, until the Day of Judgement; then to Me shall all return and I will judge between you regarding your disputes. (Surah 3.55 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

Do not think of those who have been killed in Gods cause as dead. They are alive, and well provided for by their Lord; (Surah 3.169 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

I told them only what You commanded me [Jesus] to, Worship God, my Lord and your Lord. I was a witness to what they did as long as I remained among them, and when You did cause me [Jesus] to die, You were the watcher over them. You are the witness of all things, (Surah 5.117 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

Blessed was I on the day I was born, and blessed I shall be on the day I die and on the day I am raised to life again. (Surah 19:33 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

A not so clear ayah (Dr. Joseph Cumming in his essay, "Did Jesus Die on the Cross?"[link] lists no less than 10 differing interpretations of this ayah in the major tasfīr literaturei.e. commentary on the Qur'an):

For their saying: “It is we who killed the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, the messenger of God.” Nay, they did not kill him by crucifying him. They thought they did, and those who affirm that are uncertain; they have no knowledge about it except by speculation. In certainty they did not kill him because God raised him from death up to Him. (Surah 4.157 - Dr. Suleiman Mourad)

If one begins with the clear ayat in mind (the Qur'an refers to those who do so as being, "firmly grounded in knowledge"), only one internally consistent interpretation of ayah 4.157 emerges: Jesus' physical body was crucified and killed on the cross, but His soul/spirit remained alive, and He was raised to the presence of God.

What follows, is a partial list of books, essays and websites/blogs that support the internally consistent interpretation of Surah 4.157:

Islamic Studies scholars -

"Does the Qur'an Deny or Assert Jesus' Crucifixion and Death?" (Paper presented in 2008 at the "The Qur'an in Its Historical Context" conference, University of Notre Dame; subsequently published 2011 in, The Qur'an in Its Historical Context 2, pp. 347-355)  - by Dr. Suleiman A. Mourad

"The Muslim Jesus: Dead or Alive?" (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 72, 2009, pp. 237-58.)- by Dr. Gabriel Said Reynolds [link to online pdf copy]

“Towards an Islamic Christology II”, The Muslim World, Vol. LXX, April 1980, #2, (p. 106) - by Dr. Mahmoud M. Ayoub

“The Crucifixion in the Koran,” (Muslim World 13, 1923, pp. 242–58) - by E.E. Elder

Jesus In the Qur'an (Oxford University Press ed. 1977; Oneworld Publications ed. 1995,  pp. 105-121) - by Dr. Geoffrey Parrinder

The Crucifixion and the Qur'an (2009) - by Dr. Todd Lawson

NOTE: One Islamic Studies scholar, Dr. Neal Robinson, was recently cited by a Muslim apologist who posts under the name Ibn Anwar (thanks to Ken Temple for bringing this to my attention). In the combox of a thread at Paul Williams' blog, Ibn Anwar quoted the following from Dr. Robinson:

“The attempt of some Christian apologists to circumvent the Qur’anic denial of the crucifixion is disingenuous in the extreme.” (Robinson, N. (1991) Christ in Islam and Christianity: The Representation of Jesus in the Qur’an and the Classical Muslim Commentaries. London: Macmillan Press Ltd. p. 115). [Link to Ibn Anwar's post]

The above quote from Dr. Robinson, if read by itself, seems to be denying any legitimacy to the interpretation of Surah 4.157 that I have adopted. However, one must not read the quote in isolation. Earlier in the same book, Dr. Robinson cited an early Muslim source which affirmed that it was Jesus himself who was crucified on the cross, and then laid in the tomb:

Jesus’ humanity (nāsut) was crucified and his hands were nailed to the cross. He was left there all day, given vinegar to drink, and pierced with a lance. He was taken down from the cross, wrapped in a shroud and laid in the tomb. Three days later he appeared to the disciples and was recognized by them. When the news spread that he had not been killed, the Jews opened up the tomb but did not find his mortal remains (nāsut). (Christ In Islam and Christianity, pp. 56, 57.)

Even more important is the following from Dr. Robinson's contribution on "Jesus" in Brill's, The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'ān (2005, vol. 3, pp. 7-21):

[T]he Qur'anic teaching about Jesus' death is certainly not clear-cut. Three things, however, may be said with certainty. First, the Qur'an attaches no salvific importance to this death. Second, it does not mention his resurrection on the third day and has no need of it as proof of God's power to raise the dead. Third, although the Jews thought they had killed Jesus, from God's viewpoint they did not kill or crucify him. Beyond this is the realm of speculation. The classical commentators generally begin with the questionable premise that Q 4.157-9 contains an unambiguous denial of Jesus' death by crucifixion. They found confirmation of this in the existence of traditional reports about a look-alike substitute and hadiths about Jesus' future descent. Then they interpreted the other Qur'anic references to Jesus' death in the light of their understanding of this one passage. If, however, the other passages are examined without presupposition and Q 4.157-159 is then interpreted in the light of them, it can be read as a denial of the ultimate reality of Jesus' death rather than a categorical denial that he died. (Cited in Dr. Todd Lawson's, The Crucifixion and the Qur'an, pp. 23, 24.)

Websites and blogs -

"DID JESUS DIE ON THE CROSS?" (Evidence for God's Unchanging Word - link)

"What does the Qur'an say about Jesus death?" (Antioch Believer - link)

"Never say die: The death of Jesus in the Qur'an" (Religion at the margins - link)

"Did Jesus Die?" (From the book, Jesus The Light And Fragrance of God, by M. N. Anderson - link)

"Two questions from a truth-seeking Muslim on the death of Jesus on the cross" (A Christian Thinktank - link)

Grace and peace,


P.S. For all my threads on Surah 4.157 see THIS LINK