This will almost certainly be the last post of this blog.  I pledged last Christmas to read the Qur’an closely in a year, discovering for myself as much as the book could teach me about Islam.  I was tired of hearing what others had to say about Islam, others who often were uninformed and loaded with an agenda that was anything but charitable to people different from themselves.  Also, I had been teaching a sizable unit in my 12th grade religion class on world religions for a few years but had not read the sacred texts of the religions I was discussing, and I thought it was time to rectify that.  Cultural events in America as a whole, in Tennessee, and even in Memphis caused me to see more and more of an anti-immigrant and specifically anti-Muslim sentiment, and it was time to see if there was anything to the fears I was hearing.

Now, just a few weeks past a year, I come to the end of the Qur’an, and therefore this blog.  It has been a good project.  Tough at times.  Several things happened personally (like a tree falling on my house!) and I found even just finding a half-hour to read and blog was impossible some days.  I am very glad I did this.  I believe I am a much better informed citizen of the world.  I also found that I have gained a greater appreciation for my own religion, Christianity; sometimes seeing what you have in contrast does that.  And who knows, maybe I have started a friendship or two.  At least one of you who reads this blog and is a Muslim has migrated over to my new year-long project, reading through the Christian New Testament again (see kingdomnewtestament.wordpress.com if you are interested).

A few times throughout the year as my Christian friends discovered this project, they asked what I have learned.  I would mention a few things, but really I have 180+ posts of realizations.  Still, it might be helpful for me to mention a few items that really stand out to me here as we wind this project up:

Muslims are people too:  This one seems like such a given that it shouldn’t need to be said, but it does.  If we would just take the time to actually get to know and talk with people who are different from us, we would find there is less difference than we think and so much room for kindness.  No, we are not all the same in our beliefs.  Yes, there are mutually exclusive ideas in various religions.  But the real point here is that Muslims are humans, not just a religion or a set of beliefs.  Muslims tuck their little daughters and sons into bed at night too.  They struggle with how to honor God in all they do; “struggle” is what the name of the religion means.  They fret about having enough to pay the bills, but not so much that money becomes an idol or “partner” with God.  They passionately desire the best for the world, they just define this slightly differently than others.  I am convinced though the solution is not to vilify or caricature all Muslims as terrorists.  Nothing will be gained from grabbing our kids close when Muslims walk by or develop a political platform that makes tax-paying, law-abiding, freedom-loving American Muslims feel marginalized in our society.  Get to know a Muslim and see what happens.

Keep reading:  Maybe my biggest realization came about halfway through the year when Muslims began to find and comment on this blog.  What I discovered is that if I really wanted to understand Islam, reading the Qur’an is only the beginning.  In fact, I am wondering now if I have read more of the Qur’an than some Muslims I have talked to this year (not the clearly learned Muslims who were kind enough to take a lot of time to educate me about their religion).  I was mistaken when I thought the Qur’an would unlock a thorough understanding of Islam.  I would say now that if one really wants to understand this esteemed religion one would be best served by reading the Hadith, the traditions and sayings of Muhammad that have been collected since his death.  Then pick up the Sunnah, the code for living in this world as a Muslim.  But that is far more reading and study than I am willing to commit to a religion other than my own.

Culture plays a bigger role in modern Islam than a text:  This is my hunch, though I am sure more learned people than I would say the same thing.  I have been struck by how American Muslims respond differently to my queries than Asian Muslims.  I noticed that the 1400 year old Qur’an approaches topics differently than commentators did a 100 years ago and that the translator and commentator of my translation from the 21st century had an even different take.  Time shapes thinking too.  I have noticed that empowered male Muslims speak differently about their religion than do women who are speaking out now about their religion.  And what about subjugated women who fear speaking out at all?  There is no surprise here; texts are infinitely interpretable.  We play a part in determining what a text means and an even bigger role in how a text is lived.  It would be nice to believe the Qur’an (or Bible) just means what it says, but there is logically and observably more to the equation than that.  I suspect 9/11 was driven by politics and cultural ideology more than religion.  I was struck by how few truly offensive passages I came to in the Qur’an.  I think the ugliness non-Muslims so often associate with Islam has more to do with what happens when a text gets into the hands of a cleric or charismatic leader with political or ideological aspirations, not what Allah meant in the Qur’an (if you believe the Qur’an is the words of Allah).

No, they are not out to get us:  Unfortunately, the common perception of Muslims in America is that Muslims want to kill non-Muslims.  There are few months when a student does not say as much, but we can dismiss this as adolescence.  But where are they getting this view?  Parents?  Television depictions?  Talk-show hosts?  Political candidates?  Religious leaders?  Sadly, some of all of the above.  Of course, my attention was most drawn to those passages that dealt with violence.  Maybe my greatest observation here is truly how few of these passages there are, especially in the more so Meccan last half of the Qur’an.  Then, I was reminded that, just like the Bible, these passages have to be taken in context.  All of them pertained to issues in 7th century Arabia, mainly involving aggressive pagans and a few cases of attacking Christians or Jews.  Generally, I do believe it is right to depict the condoning of violence in the Qur’an as self-defense.  I have no doubt, however, that even in the time of Muhammad this ideal degraded into more than self-defense; dealing with violence with more violence will do that.

Yet, some of them are:  It would be naive and irresponsible to ignore the fact that there are Muslims today who cite their religion as grounds for their violent attacks on non-Muslims, Christians and Jews especially.  Yes, there do seem to be some Muslims who do believe America is the “Great Satan,” though I still think we ought to ask why?  As I see it this goes back to the very same violent texts mentioned above.  As long as you have ayahs like these in the Qur’an — “Fighting has been ordained for you” (2:216) and “Kill them wherever you encounter them” (2:191) — you will have people who come along, regardless of context, and make these texts support their murderous agendas.  Is the Qur’an a violent book?  I don’t think so.  Can it be?  Absolutely!  Again, I think this has more to do with politics and ideology than religion.

Women get a mixed bag:  Is Islam inherently a misogynistic religion that subjugates women?  Like my observations about violence above, it depends on who you are talking to.  Are there passages that can be taken as demeaning to women?  Yes (4:34-35).  But there are also passages that are very protective of women, especially in cases of divorce.  Does polygamy have to be seen as demeaning to women?  No, but it can easily turn into that.  Are hijabs and burqahs prisons into which women are locked?  If you have a forceful husband who is used to getting his way and maybe has a jealous streak, sure they can be.  But they can also be incredibly empowering when they are the way a woman says she will control who can gaze upon her beauty and potentially turn her into a sexual object.  Again, I think the answer here has less to do with religion and more with personality, culture, and situations.  I suspect an American, Canadian, or British Muslim woman experiences a very different life than a young Muslim woman in parts of Iran, Afghanistan or India.

Islam gets so much so right:  In part it is because Islam is still eastern and tied to honor societies in contrast to western Christianity that seems to be driven more so by success, progress, and love, but I am struck by the respect accorded Allah in the Qur’an and in Muslim society.  This is a stark contrast to popular American Christianity-lite where “Jesus is my homeboy” or where we think the first thing we will do in Heaven is give God a hug.  The expectations placed on a worshiper of Allah are clear and high: be truly committed, no turning back, give it all or don’t bother.  The choices in life are simple and clear: Paradise or Hellfire.  Two paths to choose from, which one will it be?  Along that line, one’s eternal destiny is constantly before one as they read their Qur’an.  I would hazard to guess that Judgment and the afterlife are mentioned in at least 90% of the surahs.  People have a responsibility to care about and care for the weak and needy of our society.  Religion is intended to be embodied in flesh.  We do religion; it is lived.  Think about the five pillars of Islam: statement of belief, prayer, fasting, alms, and pilgrimage.  All of these pillars which “hold up” the religion are actions one does.  One doesn’t just believe Islam.  One does it.  I find much of this admirable.

Still, there is something missing — Jesus:  Unapologetically, I acknowledge that I am understanding Islam in contrast to my Christianity.  So many times this year I felt like Islam came close to the high ideals of Christianity, but then fell short, in large part because of how Jesus is viewed in each religion.  Let there be no doubt, Islam has a high view of Jesus.  He is a great prophet.  The honor he is given in this life and the next are great.  But he is no god in Islam; that would be blasphemous.  So what is missing when Jesus is not God?  Allah just does not come off as being as personal or immanent a god as the God of the Bible is.  Christians can say they are seeing God when they look at Jesus.  Christians believe Jesus reveals the heart and actions of God.  Christians can say their God has given them a flesh-and-blood example of how to live life, Jesus.  Furthermore, when Jesus leaves the earth after his resurrection he sends the Holy Spirit, who Christians believe is the very presence of God.  This Holy Spirit lives inside Christians, making us holy and guiding us through life.  Christians believe a part of their God lives inside of them.  I see none of this in the Qur’an.  Allah did not even speak to Muhammad himself.  Maybe the biggest nut I have tried to crack this year is the difference between Islamic and Christian views on grace.  Does Islam speak of grace and mercy?  Almost every surah starts by calling Allah the “Lord and Giver of Mercy.”  Do humans deserve to be saved from Hell, according to Islam?  No.  Is there any human who can be perfect enough to be deemed righteous in Allah’s eyes?  No.  Are there countless numbers of blessings that come to humans everyday because of Allah’s grace that we simply do not deserve?  Yes.  It is certainly appropriate to speak of grace in Islam.  But it is a fundamentally different kind than what you find in Christianity.  Muslims must live their whole life hoping for grace, while Christians know at their baptism that they have already received that grace because of the cross of Christ.  Muslims spend a life living in such a way as to be worthy of grace with a hope of salvation in the end.  Christians spend a life living in gratitude for a gracious salvation already given, knowing they never can do enough to be worthy of it.  No Christian would want their deeds weighed on a scale at the end of life, because we know we can’t be good enough and we also know God considers any sin to be too much.  As much as I have tried to understand both what I have read in the Qur’an and what the Muslims on this blog have share with me, I simply can’t get past the feeling that Muslims are trying to earn something.  Lastly, with the minimization of Jesus, there is a loss of his reordering of love, power, and success.  The first shall be last.  You gain your life by laying it down.  Blessed are you when you are persecuted.  Turn the cheek.  Repay good for evil.  Overcome evil with good.  Jesus saw life entirely different from conventional men.  No surprise there, he is God and was visiting our world from the world that is to come.  He was inviting us to help bring this new kind of life into this world and hasten the new creation.  This especially meant that we would see love, power, and success differently.  I am afraid that as I read the Qur’an I just heard much of the same ole story humans have always told: my side is better than yours so become like us and avoid the unpleasantness that comes to our enemies who fail to exercise self-control and pull themselves up by their own boot-straps.  This is still one big self-improvement project, though Allah is both more involved and real than Karma or Fate.  Yes, he gives a book to help, so read it and know it and follow it well.  It seems Jesus offers the world something you can’t find anywhere else.  Of course, I do not mean to be offensive in this last observation.

My final point is an obvious one: I am not a Muslim, nor a particularly well-informed scholar of Islam either.  These are the thoughts of an honest seeker of truth after a year of earnest reading and thought.  I am sure I am biased (who is not?).  I am sure I don’t understand things completely (watch the comments on this one for rebuttals).  However, let it not be said that I did not try to understand Islam for myself.  But also don’t let this blog be your last word on this prodigious religion.

Peace, shalom, salam.

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Loyalty is a hard thing to come by. 

Moses didn’t have it (61:5).  People rose up and doubted his leadership.  They second-guessed his decisions.  Rebellion came. 

So too with Jesus (61:6).  His popularity sky-rocketed, but it plummetted just as quickly.  He was opposed bitterly by the Jewish religious leaders.  They turned against him, like they had with Moses.   

Now is there any wonder that people oppose Muhammad?  There shouldn’t be. 

But what God desires are people who will do what they say, people who will “fight in solid lines for His cause” (61:4).

Interestingly, this surah ends with Jesus’ disciples extolled for their faithfulness to God’s cause (61:14).  Essentially, they stand as an example of what to be.  God supports such people.

Jesus is quoted in today’s surah as saying the following:

Children of Israel, I am sent to you by God, confirming the Torah that came before me and bringing good news of a messenger to follow me whose name will be Ahmad. (61:6)

Of course, the Bible does not state that Jesus ever said anything of the sort.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come after him (John 16:7).  He talked about his own second coming (Matthew 24).  But Jesus never said another prophet would come after him.  In Jesus’ mind he was the end.  This new move of God was the culmination of what came before.  The Church that would follow was simply the working out of the Kingdom that started with Jesus.  That working out continues to this day.   

The name “Ahmad” means “praised” or “the praised one.”  This happens to be what the name Muhammad means too.  Clearly, the implication is that Jesus is foreshadowing the coming of Muhammad.  As convenient as that would be for Islam, Christians are going to have a hard time accepting this.

One of the arguments Christian apologists make in support of the claim of the authenticity of the Bible is that the very men who wrote the Bible wrote rather unflattering things about themselves and Jesus:

  • Peter denies Jesus three times hours before his death
  • All of the apostles abandon Jesus during the time of his trials and death
  • Thomas has to have Jesus prove his bodily resurrection
  • Peter is perpetually rash, violent, and presumptuous
  • James and John want to have Jesus destroy a town who fails to welcome the Christ warmly
  • The apostles jockeyed for power amongst themselves, each wishing to rule the others
  • The majority of apostles were lowly fishermen
  • Jesus was a friend of outcasts, rejects, and people of ill-repute

 If the stories of the Bible are fiction or exaggerated and mythologized fact, wouldn’t the apostles depict themselves in a better light that they did?  They were unburdened by objectivity and had the freedom to make themselves look good, why would they include such unflattering depictions? 

By itself it is not the kind of argument you would want to base your entire faith on, but it is a nice point to add to others when making the case that the Bible is more than just another book on a shelf. 

Then when I read the first few ayahs of today’s surah I was struck that the same logic could apply here, but about the Qur’an this time. 

Usually the Prophet Muhammad is defended wholesale in the Qur’an.  The Muslims I have talked with here assert the great virtue — almost absolute purity — of the prophets.  So to see Muhammad corrected by God Himself is unusual. 

Evidently there was a pagan Arab custom that a husband could declare his wife to be “like [his] mother’s back to him” (58:2).  Besides the fact that this just sounds weird, this declaration functioned to deprive the wife of her marital rights, yet not produce a true divorce.  Hence the wife was unable to marry again, sealing her for a life of neglect and lack of fulfillment. 

Khawla, daughter of Tha`laba, had such a pronouncement uttered against her, so she appealed to Muhammad.  Islamic tradition says that the Prophet sided with pagan tradition and said “You are unlawful to him now.”    

The first part of today’s surah is a declaration from God that this custom is unfair and wrong, vindicating the woman’s desires. 

What they say is certainly blameworthy and false. (58:2)

God’s compassionate nature as a defender of the weak and oppressed is upheld and accentuated in this account.  Interestingly, though, Muhammad is corrected and shown to have faulty judgment.  Not a big deal; I don’t imagine a Muslim would say the Prophet was infallible. 

What strikes me is this: If one does not accept the Qur’an as inspired scripture (and, as a Christian, I do not) one has to come up with an alternate explanation for its origin.  The logical supposition is that Muhammad fabricated the words of the Qur’an, the same claim anyone who rejects the inspiration of a supposed sacred book (the Bible, the Qur’an, the Book of Mormom, or whatever) would offer. 

Now back to the apologetic argument stated at first in this post: if someone makes something up, why would they make themselves look bad?  If this surah was the invention of Muhammad’s fictional genius, why make God correct him?  If it lends support for the authenticity of the Bible, wouldn’t it do so for the Qur’an too in this case?  It seems so. 

Now, there is a bit of a difference in degree of embarrassment between outright denial or skepticism in the resurrection and making an incorrect legal ruling.  And the surah does go on to make the Prophet look really good and very authoritative:

Those who oppose God and His Messenger will be brought low, like those before them. (58:5)

And the embarrassment argument doesn’t hold a lot of weight by itself, but I was struck by the unusual candidness with which this surah is stated.

The Treaty of Hudaybiyya

In 628 CE, Muhammad and a band of 1400 Muslims marched out from Medina armed only with animals to sacrifice in Mecca on pilgrimage.  For some time they had been barred from entering Mecca to worship at the Ka’ba by the pagan Meccans.  Battles had ensued between the two sides.  Now they tried a different tack: go peacefully and avoid bloodshed.  This new Medinan surah recounts aspects of this journey and the “triumph” (the name of the surah) that resulted.

The Muslims were met by the Meccans outside the city in a small town called Hudaybiyya.  They were stopped there and barred once again from entering Mecca but this time a treaty was drawn up between the two sides in which the Muslims would be granted free access to Mecca and the Ka’ba for the following ten years in order to complete their pilgrimages and sacrifices.  The Meccans even agreed to leave the city so the Muslims could worship in peace.  This became known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyya.  The treaty lasted all of one year, but it was the first time the nascent Muslims were acknowledged by their neighbors to be a legitimate bargaining power, one with which it might be better to strike a treaty than to fight.  In this way, the Treaty was most certainly a triumph. 

Hudaybiyya today

Much of the surah takes up the issue of loyalty within the Muslim group.  As the plan for the peaceful pilgrimage to Mecca was birthed and vetted amongst the people, the desert Muslim tribes were not especially fond of the plan.  They offered up excuses and stayed home.  There was no war booty to be had in the campaign.  Worse, there was the very real possibility of the loss of possessions or even death.  Thinking with earthly minds, this pilgrimage didn’t make sense.  God says he is less than impressed.  He will be dealing with them. 

Three passages stood out to me in this surah.  First:

Those who pledge loyalty to you [Prophet] are actually pledging loyalty to God himself — God’s hand is placed on theirs. (48:10)

We can conclude from this ayah that a Muslim who pledged fidelity to Muhammad would place their hand on his.  Then it was as if God were placing his hand on the top of the other two, to seal the pledge.  What strikes me is the rare anthropomorphism assigned to Allah in this passage.  Allah has so often been described in purely spiritual ways.  Allah is almost never described in bodily fashion (in fact, I can’t recall a passage at all so far in our reading).  And yet he is here.  Interesting! 

The second passage also has to do with the body, but this time the Muslim’s:

You see them kneeling and prostrating, seeking God’s bounty and His good pleasure: on their faces they bear the marks of their prostrations. (48:29)

Does this have a spiritual connotation?  Probably.  Commentator Ali says  this refers to gentleness, kindness, and love.  But it is also likely meant physically.  Daily prayer, five times a day, forehead to the ground — well, that’s going to leave a mark!  It is very admirable when your spiritual devotion leaves a physical mark on your person.

The third passage appears to be an expansion of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.  This ayah describes what a firmly devoted worshiper is like:

This is how they are pictured in the Torah and the Gospel: like a seed that puts forth its shoot, becomes strong, grows thick, and rises on its stem to the delight of its sowers. (48:29)

I struggle into a new surah today, “The Throngs.”  Struggle because I am getting busier and busier.  Struggle because I still feel like I am reading the same thing over and over again.  With just over three months left in this goal to read through the Qur’an before New Year, I am pressing on to finish the goal.

Here is what hit me from this new chapter:

[As for] those who choose other protectors beside Him, saying, “We only worship them because they bring us nearer to God,” . . . (39:3)

It appears at least some pagans saw their gods as part of pantheon of under-gods that ultimately lead to the real God.

If you are ungrateful, remember God has no need of you, yet He is not pleased by ingratitude in His servants; if you are grateful, He is pleased [to see] it in you. (39:7)

God does not need us.  However, he wants us and he shows this desire through His goodness.  When we are ungrateful, we are essentially saying to God, “We do not want you.”  Maybe that is more insulting, than to reject one who needs you.

No soul will bear another’s burden. (39:7)

By my count, a version of this line occurs five times in the Qur’an (6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 53:38).  No one will be punished for the actions of another, that is what I hear this saying.  No wonder Muslims can’t get behind the substitutionary atonement/sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of humanity, the most basic Christian belief.  It transgresses the spirit of this recurring ayah.

When man suffers some affliction, he prays to his Lord and turns to Him, but once he has been granted a favor from God, he forgets the One he had been praying to and sets up rivals to God. (39:8)

I guess every religion has people who use their god to get them out of trouble.  Too bad!

Say, “I fear the torment of a terrible Day if I disobey my Lord.”  Say, “It is God I serve, dedicating my worship entirely to Him — you may serve whatever you please beside Him.”  Say, “The true losers are the ones who will lose themselves and their people on the Day of Resurrection: that is the most obvious loss.  They will have layers of Fire above them and below.”  This is how God puts fear into His servants: My servants, beware of Me.  (39:13-16)

Unless I just don’t understand the last line, this is directed to Allah’s servants, His people, not unbelievers.  It seems a bit harsh.  The Bible talks of a “fear of God” (Proverbs 1:7) that is more like respect or revere.  That is a bit different from fear-what-I-can-do-to-you, fear-the-Fire, do-this-or-else fear.  How does a passage like this play in modern, western societies?  Do American Muslims downplay these kind of prickly depictions of Allah?

The main point in today’s reading is that the reception Muhammad is receiving is not unlike that given to many prophets before him.  We have seen this message many times already. 

The most interesting part of the reading, though, is what the disbelievers say to an unnamed prophet before Muhammad’s time when he claims that we will be resurrected on the Last Day:

The leading disbelievers . . . said, “He is just a  mortal like you — he eats what you eat and drinks what you drink — and you will really be losers if you obey a mortal like yourselves.  How can he promise you that after you die and become dust and bones you will be brought out alive?  What you are promised is very far-fetched.  There is only the life of this world: we die, we live, but we will never be resurrected.  He is just a man making lies up about God.  We will never believe in him.”  (23:33-38)

How can this prophet or Muhammad after him promise the dead will be resurrected? 

It is claimed that the topic of the Hereafter is discussed more than any topic in the Qur’an with the sole exception of monotheism and idolatry.  Resurrection is foundational to the Islamic worldview, so it begs the question “what is the basis for believing this claim?”  This is a religious belief, so it will have a degree of faith involved, to be sure.  But one can hope that there is some reason to believe that this faith is more than wishful thinking.  I do hope that those better versed in Islam can provide evidence for faith in the claim of resurrection.  All I have found is this: 1) Allah has revealed the truth of resurrection in the Qur’an, thus it is true; and 2) as is said in this passage, the truth will be shown in the end (23:40).  If one believes that the Qur’an is the inspired word of God, then yes these arguments would be persuasive.  But it is not realistic to think that #1 would mean much to a person who does not yet trust the Qur’an.  It is not like Muhammad was raised from the dead.   

Resurrection is also foundational to Christianity, so it is only fair to ask what basis do Christians have to believe that they will be resurrected on the Last Day.  Is it because the Bible claims it to be true?  Again, this argument alone does not hold water with someone who does not yet believe the Bible is the word of God.  Does the Bible offer any better reason for believing that resurrection is a reality?

The Apostle Paul devotes an entire chapter to exactly this point.  It seems there were some in his time who were saying something similar to what the disbelievers above were saying.  Paul’s response is the foundational argument for the resurrection in Christianity.  How can we know that we will be resurrected?  Jesus’ resurrection.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.  But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Why should we believe in resurrection?  Because Jesus was raised from the dead.  Jesus wasn’t just resuscitated in the same body; he received a renewed, resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:44).  If Jesus was not resurrected, then Christianity falls apart.  Resurrection is the linchpin.  Why can a Christian believe that resurrection will be a reality?  Not simply because a book says so.  We have been given proof that God has this power and desire in that He raised Jesus from the dead during our time.  We know we can be resurrected in the future because God has already resurrected in the past. 

This argument can be charged with the same circular reason I mentioned earlier in regards to the Qur’an, can’t it?  Christians believe the Bible’s claim of resurrection because the Bible describes a resurrected Jesus.  Isn’t that the same as saying, “I believe the Bible because of the Bible”?

This is where further reasoning and research bolsters the faith one can have in what we read in the Bible.  Why should we believe that Jesus was resurrected? 

  1. If the resurrection of Jesus were nothing more than a hoax, the apostles who started that hoax went on to suffer and die for Jesus.  Would you die for a lie?  What did the apostles stand to gain from the hoax: popularity, fame, money, women?  The apostles received none of these in their life-time.  Consider this verse from 1 Corinthians 15:30, “And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?”
  2. Maybe Jesus just passed out and never really died.  We know from history that a great number of people being flogged before resurrection (as Jesus was) actually died during the beating.  The suffering Jesus endured was simply too severe to live through.  Also, the mixture of water and blood oozing from Jesus’ wound is a tell-tale sign of a fatal wound. 
  3. Maybe the people who thought they saw a resurrected Jesus were just hallucinating.  But over 500 people claimed to see the same resurrected Jesus.  It is illogical that there would be such a mass hallucination.  In addition, the closeness between event and writing made it possible for people who doubted the resurrection account to actually find and talk with these supposed eyewitnesses. 
  4. Maybe someone stole Jesus’ body?  Who?  The only people who would want to do so would be the apostles.  It is illogical to think they could get past an armed battalion of Roman guards who were trained to kill and would be killed themselves if they failed or fell asleep.  It is also not likely that they would be able to move the stone. 
  5. The resurrection accounts are actually crafted as weak arguments if they are fake.  Women are claimed to be the first eyewitnesses.  The testimony of women was not even accepted in a court of law at that time.  Why create such a story?
  6. How did the apostles go from timid fishermen so afraid of dying that they hid to fearless messengers who all died a martyr’s death (except John who died in exile on the island of Patmos)?  How did Paul have such an about-face that he went from murderer to martyr in such a short amount of time?  The best explanation is a miraculous event. 
  7. Anyone who wished to disprove the resurrection could have done so easily.  All they had to do was produce Jesus’ body.  The Jewish religious leaders had every reason to do so as the Christian group grew in popularity after Pentecost only two months after the Crucifixion.  But no one ever did.   

The best and most logical explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth truly was resurrected from the dead as claimed.  And because of that we can have a confidence that we too will be resurrected.    

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

I know this is a biased observation, though I wonder if pure objectivity is even possible on this matter (I know, how postmodern of me!).  But here it is.  Let the commenting begin.

It seems that even the Qur’an can’t avoid elevating Jesus to a point unparalleled by any other person, even Muhammad himself. 

I know, that assertion is going to need some evidence.  Here’s what I am seeing:

  • Jesus is called the “Messiah” (4:171), which doesn’t have to mean anything more than “anointed one” but it is a title not shared in the Qur’an with anyone else
  • Jesus was born miraculously of a virgin (19:20)
  • Jesus’ mother Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, indicating her uniqueness among women (19:16ff)
  • The infant Jesus miraculously spoke from the cradle (3:46; 5:110; 19:29)
  • Jesus possessed the miraculous ability to breathe life into a clay bird, an act that imitates the creation of humankind by God (3:49; 5:110)
  • Jesus is saved from suffering a physical death (4:158)
  • Jesus has already been physically raised up into the highest of heavens to be with God himself (4:158)
  • Islamic tradition even says that Jesus will come again in the “Last Days” to help fight against the “false Messiah.”
  • Islamic art shows Jesus standing in God’s court at the Last Judgment.

Jesus (Isa) on the top step in white in the upper left quadrant

To my knowledge, none of the above can be claimed of Muhammad, at least not from his life as described in the Qur’an.  That just seems a little odd to me if Muhammad is the greatest of all prophets. It is as if even the Qur’an cannot escape the supremacy of Jesus Christ.

Well, that’s what I am seeing.  What do you think?