I once had a student express her distaste for closed-minded Christians who believe they are the only ones going to Heaven.  This student came from a Muslim family, though a very secular one.  The thought that her relatives in a far away country who have only ever known Islam would be banished to Hell simply because they did not accept Jesus as God was insulting (this was not a claim I had made, by the way; as I general rule I try not to alienate my students).  There it was once again: the characterization of Christianity as intolerant and exclusive. 

But why do other religions not get the same bad rap?  Maybe they do and I don’t realize it.  Maybe they do not come across the same way; Buddhism sure does not.  Maybe they are truly more inclusive, like Hinduism.  What strikes me most in this the last section from the fourth surah is how Islam could just as easily be labeled with these same negative epithets.

As for those who ignore God and His messengers and want to make a distinction between them, saying, “We believe in some but not others,” seeking a middle way, they are really disbelievers.  We [Allah] have prepared a humiliating punishment for those who disbelieve.  But God will give [due] rewards to those who believe in Him and His messengers and make no distinction between any of them.  (4:150-151)

Sounds like the Qur’an is saying our way or no way.  There is only one way.

For those of them that reject the truth [the Jews] we have prepared an agonizing torment.  But those of them who are well grounded in knowledge and have faith do believe in what was revealed to you [Muhammad] . . . to them We shall give a great reward. (4:161)

Seems you have to believe certain things.  If you do there is reward.  If you don’t?  Well, “agonizing” doesn’t sound very accepting. 

Those who have disbelieved and barred others from God’s path have gone far astray; God will not forgive those who have disbelieved and do evil, nor will He guide them to any path except that of Hell, where they will remain for ever — this is easy for God. (4:167-69)

You are a believer in another faith?  Not okay.  In fact, Allah won’t even try to guide you to Himself.  Allah finds it “easy” to send people to Hell.

He [the Messiah; more on him tomorrow] will gather before Him all those who disdain His worship and are arrogant: to those who believe and do good works He will give due rewards and more of His bounty; to those who are disdainful and arrogant He will give an agonizing torment. (4:172-73)

Reward or punishment.  It’s up to you.  And it all has to do with how “Muslim” you are. 

That sounds exclusive to me.  I am not a Muslim, so I hear a warning.  I am risking my soul by not having accepted the Qur’an as the final revelation of my God.  My way is not sufficient.  My allegiance to Christianity should be dropped and I should adopt the true spirit of submission (islam) that was in Father Abraham, Moses, David and the great prophet Jesus.  I am not okay where I am.  That sounds very close-minded.  How intolerant!  Some of the best people I know are Christians.  Are you telling me God would send them to Hell just because they haven’t accepted the words brought by Muhammad?  How insulting! 

It seems Christians aren’t alone in their exclusivism, after all.      

More on this same section tomorrow.  It has some very interesting ideas about Jesus and we need to look closely at that, for sure.