I don’t always have conversations with Muslims about theological topics, but when I do, they are memorable. There are three conversations in particular that come to mind. I would like to share the gist of these conversations with you, because they reveal three weak points of Muslim theology – or, if you are paying attention, only one weak point. There are many reasons why I do not believe Islam to be true, but the theological inadequacy revealed in these conversations is one good reason I would like to share with you today.
Conversation #1: A Muslim Man at a Carnival
I once had a brief conversation with a Muslim intent on demonstrating that the Bible had been corrupted. In support of his position, he offered the following reasoning. First he asserted that Solomon was a prophet. This was news to me, but I was curious to see where his line of argument was headed, so I said nothing and let him continue. Next he correctly stated that the Bible describes Solomon as having had many wives, which is sinful. Then he claimed that we know that prophets can’t sin, and finally concluded that because the Bible describes a prophet (Solomon) as sinning, the Bible must be corrupt.
You’ll probably want to back up and read that claim again. Prophets can’t sin? I hadn’t heard that before either, so I stopped him to ask how he came to that conclusion. He responded that God (Allah) would not use sinful people, only those who were sinless (keep in mind that Islam doesn’t have the doctrine of original sin). To use sinful people would be unbefitting Allah’s mastery of the universe.
I found this idea somewhat jarring. God can’t use sinful people? Where does that put most of humanity? Then a thought occurred to me. I asked if he was a musician, and he responded affirmatively. “It seems to me,” I said, “that a master musician can take a flawed instrument and play it beautifully despite its flaws, and that a flawed instrument is a better test of the musician’s skill. A musician who can play a flawed instrument well is greater than a musician that can only play a perfect instrument. Similarly, a God who can use flawed and sinful creatures to further his ends must be a more masterful and sovereign God than one who can only use perfect people.”
That definitely caught his attention, and he admitted that he hadn’t thought of things that way before, and that what I had said threw a wrench in his thinking. We talked for a minute more and parted ways amicably. I didn’t totally change his mind about Islam, but I did give him something to think about that he wouldn’t be able to easily forget.
Lesson #1 : Allah can’t use imperfect people.
Conversation #2: A Muslim Man on Facebook
I once had a brief interchange with a Muslim about passages in the Qur’an that appear to advocate violence against non-believers. He contended that such passages were taken out of context, but would not explain how this was the case or what the true meaning of the passages was. I was willing to listen if he had an explanation because I tire of others taking passages from the Bible out of context when they talk to me about Christianity. Unfortunately he was somewhat evasive and then finally insisted that the verses were invalid to use anyway, since they were being read in English. The Qur’an must be read in Arabic to be authoritative, he insisted; one could not make a theological case from verses in English.
Again I found the theology I was hearing surprising, even though I was already aware of the connection between the authority of the Qur’an and Arabic. Why can God only communicate in Arabic? If the Quran is from Allah, then why do Allah’s words lose their power outside of Arabic? I asked these questions of him, but he never responded.
Lesson # 2: Allah can’t be understood outside of Arabic.
Conversation 3: A Muslim Woman After Class
In another polite and brief conversation I had with a Muslim woman, I recall asking her about heaven, and what she believed about how to get there. At one point I asked her what she did when she sinned, and she explained that she felt bad and asked Allah to forgive her, then hoped he would. I had heard before that there was no such thing as assurance of salvation in Islam, because to say that Allah would forgive was to impose limits on his sovereignty. In order for Allah’s sovereignty to be preserved, no human action could impose upon his will, such that he was free to decide who went to hell and who went to heaven, regardless of how well one followed Islam. Even though I had heard it before in religion classes, it was still hard to hear coming from a person who actually believed it. She confessed that she had no assurance of her forgiveness and expressed sometimes feeling anxious about her sin. I shared with her the assurance of forgiveness made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf and we parted ways agreeably, though I was very sad to see her still trying to earn forgiveness on her own without any help or assurance.
Lesson #3: Allah can’t guarantee your forgiveness or salvation.
Of course, all of these lessons really boil down to just one: Allah can’t.
But there’s good news; I have another lesson for you: God can!
God can use imperfect people. In fact, he has used and continues to use imperfect people of every shape and size, from every fractured background imaginable, having committed practically every sin imaginable!
God can be understood in every human tongue. The Bible has been translated into most of the languages on earth, but even since the beginning of the church, God has communicated his message in many ways and in the language of those listening.
I hope these three conversations and the lessons from each of them help you both in your thinking about Islam and in your own Christian walk as you grow to know the God of the Bible, the God Who Can.