Contending for the Faith: Introduction to Islam (3)

The Koran…Is This Revelation?

Does the Koran have any place in the history of written revelation? The answer is an unequivocal “No!” A complementary relationship exists between the Old and the New Testament. The typical and prophetic writings of the Old Testament Scriptures find their complete fulfillment in the New Testament. The harmonious relationship between the two Testaments attests to the divine authorship of the contents. Any reader of the Koran, familiar with the Bible, is totally unable to identify this book with the Holy Scriptures. The fact that a number of Bible characters, including the Lord Jesus, are mentioned in the Koran is no more evidence that this book comes from God than the book of Mormon which does the same thing! When we consider the Word of God, there were great periods of miracles accompanying different aspects of God’s special dealings with man. Who would dare claim what the Lord Jesus claimed as to His deity, His authority, His ministry, and His work if at no time had there been any supernatural and divine manifestation of heaven’s approval? The life of Mohammed provides no such authentication. Did the Koran come from God? Mohammed can give no proof and no eyewitnesses support his claim that Gabriel spoke to him. His startling claim to having been taken up to heaven from Jerusalem on a white mount is totally unproven (this is one of the reasons for the conflict over Jerusalem at the present day).

We must not underestimate the loyalty of the Moslem to the Koran. It is the most sacred of books, handled with respect and given a place of honor in the home. It is not unusual to go into a Moslem home and see an ornate copy of the Koran placed on a stand for all to see. During an interrogation in a Moslem country, a police officer asked to see my Bible, he leafed through it and then asked me if this was my “Holy Book.” When I assured him that it was, he accused me of irreverence as he had noticed that I had underlined passages and written notes in the margin of my Bible. In his eyes this was desecrating the sacred page. He would never have done that with the Koran. I pointed out to him that I revered the words God had inspired, not the paper and the ink. The Christian should abstain from giving any opinion about the Koran, even less from seeking to find common ground within its pages. Criticizing the Moslem sacred book is both irrelevant and unnecessary.

But the simple reading of the Koran will no more explain all the features of Islam than only reading the Missal (the Catholic prayer book) would enable us to understand the workings of the Roman Catholic Church. Islamic practice covering every aspect of life is set out by two other features of Islam that must be taken into consideration: the first are the traditions, the Sunna, and the second are the writings, the Hadith. These two are closely interwoven for the traditions are often set down in writing in the Hadith.

The Traditions (the Sunna) and the Writings (the Hadith)

Mohammed’s claim to be the messenger sent from God and the last of the prophets meant that not only the Koran, but his whole life style became the object of minute attention. His personal habits, his dress, and his every gesture, the way he ate and the way he prayed were carefully noted and imitated. His disciples considered that all that he did and said was decreed by God. All these details are established by Islamic tradition called the Sunna. For example, the Koran gives no indication as to how the Muslim is to perform his prayer ritual but the Sunna furnishes him with the necessary instructions. The Sunna is an indispensable complement to the Koran. Associated with the Sunna are the Hadith, the writings. After the death of Mohammed, his followers put down in writing what he had said and what he had instructed in different circumstances. Eventually thousands of these writings were circulated. It was difficult to know which of these were reliable. Moslem theologians imposed certain tests to determine which were “strong,” with reliable testimonies from Mohammed’s contemporaries and those which were “weak”, having less authentic sources.

A typical Hadith is introduced in the following way: “Abou Huraira recounts that Allah’s messenger said …” This is followed by a declaration which Mohammed is supposed to have pronounced. The various interpretations of the traditions and the writings have been the source of much controversy amongst Moslem theologians over the centuries and have engendered the various Islamic sects, notably the Shiites and the Sunnis.

Islam is a religion of repetition and imitation. There is no room for personal exercise and individuality. Every aspect of life is strictly regimented, whether in the home, the mosque, or the community. All is rigidly modelled after the life of a man that lived 1400 years ago in a desert environment and who claimed to be God’s messenger. Thus the whole concept of Islam is conformity and submission to the “model.” From morning to evening, day after day, year after year, and generation after generation, Moslems repeat the same prayers using the same rituals with the hope that adherence to the model will gain approval with God. There is nothing new, nothing fresh. From Morocco to Indonesia, Moslems will pray in exactly the same way, the litmus test of faithfulness being the correct performance of the rituals associated with the worship of Allah.

Even in the field of the arts, because of the interdiction to portray living creatures, Moslem artists, denied their creative instincts, have been reduced to the skillful reproduction of repetitive abstract motifs that we know under the name of arabesques. This explains the ornate decoration of Arabic script in versions of the Koran much as the monks of the Middle Ages illuminated their parchments when transcribing Biblical texts. Arab calligraphers excel in the art of geometric and floral illumination of texts of the Koran.