In Poor Richard’s Almanac, Benjamin Franklin noted wisely, “Half the truth is often a great lie.”
A recent article by Haroon Moghul stands as proof of this maxim. Published online by NBCNews on its “THINK” page, the article is entitled, “Christians don’t have a Christmas monopoly on Jesus. Muslims honor him too.”
The author hopes that by pointing out the “many similarities” between Christianity and Islam, particularly on the nativity of Jesus, we can take the wind out of the sails of Islamophobia and make the world a more wonderful place, free of hatred and bigotry from Christians/Westerners against Muslims because after all we share so much in common.
Since this article appeared on NBC’s THINK page, I suppose a little deliberation on his thesis would be in order.
Moghul points out, no doubt accurately, that most Americans don’t know any Muslims and so are vulnerable to swallowing all the negative stereotypes awash in the media. If only we learned “a little bit about the Muslim basics,” then our perception of Islam would swing from “menacing and foreign” to “remarkably familiar.” Hence his attempt to educate the ignorant reader that Christians don’t have a “Christmas monopoly” on Jesus, because Islam also proclaims the Virgin Birth in its Qur’an.
This is true, as far as it goes. Apart from some small errors of fact (Moghul states that in the Qur’an the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is already pregnant, but that is putting the proverbial cart before the horse; further, he remarks that Mary responds not only with confusion, but also with horror and despair, yet we find no evidence for the latter two conditions either in the Qur’an or in the Gospels), Moghul tells the Nativity story from the view of the Qur’an.
Here is where we find points of commonality:
- An angel (or group of angels – the Qur’an has two different, conflicting accounts) comes to announce to Mary that she will conceive a child miraculously by the power of God, and that this child will have a special role to play in history (though Islam and Christianity fundamentally disagree on that role)
- Mary wonders how God could accomplish this without the involvement of a man
- Mary indeed is the name of Jesus’ mother (in the Qur’an Mary is the only woman referred to by name, which indicates a bit of her uniqueness because of Jesus, and a bit of Islam’s disdain for the standing of women generally).
- Mary gives birth to Jesus (in the Qur’an, Joseph is nowhere to be found – Mary is alone in the wilderness under a palm tree when Jesus is born; the Qur’an gives us no geographical hints about where this all takes place)
- Mary bears the unjust rebukes of her neighbors for the out-of-wedlock conception and birth of Jesus (implicit in the Gospel accounts, explicit in the Qur’an).
Now let’s look at some of the major differences, found primarily in what the Qur’an omits from the biblical Nativity accounts:
- The angel of the Lord’s appearance to Joseph reassuring him of the miraculous nature of Mary’s conception and directing him as to the name of the son she will bear is completely absent from the Qur’an. This is no surprise, as the meaning of the name chosen for the Messiah is Jesus, which in its Hebrew form means “Yahweh (the I Am) is salvation,” and the angel underscores the reason for this name: “because he will save his people from their sins
- The Gospel-writer Matthew, in commenting upon this revelation, connects it with the prophecy found in Isaiah which predicts that a virgin will conceive and bear a son, who will be called Immanuel (Hebrew for “God with us”). Clearly, according to the biblical accounts, God has much bigger plans for Jesus than his being one of a procession of great prophets. It makes sense that Muhammad would leave this out, so that he could hide the divinely given name of Jesus (in Arabic Yasu’a – bearing the same meaning as the Hebrew Yeshua) and replace it with the name for Jesus found in the Qur’an – ‘Isa – which has no salvific significance
- Likewise, the Qur’an omits the angel Gabriel’s decree to Mary about naming her son Jesus, and that “he will be called Son of the Most High” whose Kingdom will never end (Islam rejects with loathing the idea that Jesus could be the Son of God, and reiterates that he is only a mortal, definitely not an eternal King
- Conceived by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the power of the Most High overshadowing her, Jesus will be called holy, the Son of God. In the Qur’an, Jesus is referred to as “a pure son”, but of course not as the Son of God. In terms of the virginal conception of Jesus, what the Gospels leave as a mystery, the Qur’an explains very graphically – the spirit being standing before Mary (whom most Muslim clerics believe to be the angel Gabriel) breathes into her vaginal opening, as the result of which she conceives (Sura 66:12; this is often masked in English translations, but the Arabic is very clear)
- The account of a newly-pregnant Mary going to visit her relative Elizabeth, who is herself six months pregnant with a boy who will become known as John the Baptist, is absent from the Qur’an. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit” on that occasion, expressed this remarkable sentiment: “Why is this granted me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mother of my Lord? That sure sounds like incarnational language, something that would make Muhammad’s head explode – much better to push that truth aside.
- No angel bearing glad tidings to Bethlehem shepherds is found in the Qur’an, for what would Muhammad do with this good news of great joy that will be for all the people: “to you this day is born in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”, a message punctuated by multitude of angels singing their hearts out in praise to God.
- Neither Simeon nor Anna get any play in the Qur’an, even though in the Gospel of Luke their sighting of the baby Jesus in the Temple brings their long spiritual vigils to fulfillment. Simeon declares, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace…for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles (this, of course, would include the Arabs and all future Muslims), and for glory to Your people Israel.” Anna, after seeing the baby Jesus, gives praise to God, and in the words of Luke, “spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Of course, neither of these saints’ testimony concerning Jesus as the hope of humanity would fly with Muhammad, who must deny the preeminence of the Savior of the world in order to toot his own horn as Allah’s final messenger to mankind.
- Of course, all this has to do only with the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. What does Islam do with the Prologue of the Gospel of John? The pre-incarnate Jesus is the Word who is with God and is God; he is the one through whom all creation has come into existence; he is the Light and Life of humanity; he is the light that shines in the darkness and cannot be extinguished; he is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us as one of us, and yet as our Savior. What does Islam do with this incarnational narrative? Nothing — except to reject it wholeheartedly.
Looking beyond the message of the Nativity, we discover in the Qur’an a very clear agenda to repudiate all the key Christological truths at the heart of the New Testament, because if they are indeed true, then Islam is false and Muhammad is no more than a religious pretender. So the Qur’an levels its big guns at these definitional claims concerning the person and work of Jesus:
- Jesus is only human; he is not God the Son, the second member of the Trinity, who in the incarnation took on flesh to become “God with us,” fully God and fully human. Despite the fact he was regularly accused of blasphemy for “making himself equal with God,” Muslims adamantly declare he never claimed to be God.
- Of course, if Jesus is not God the Son, then the cardinal Christian doctrine of the Trinity goes down in flames.
- He did not come to save sinners by offering himself as a sacrificial lamb to bear the punishment of humanity’s capacious evils.
- In fact, he did not die on the cross at all, but Allah “raptured” him to heaven before he could be killed by the Jews.
- Since he did not die, there could be no atonement available through him for the world.
- Since he did not die, he could not be the conqueror of death; he was not raised from the dead, and has no power to overcome death for his followers. He is not the Alpha and Omega, Firstborn from the dead, the One who holds the keys to death and Hades; he is only a faithful slave of Allah, who carried out his prophetic role to bring judgment to the Jews.
- He will come again at the end of time, but not as divine Judge who will separate humanity into sheep and goats for final judgment. Instead, he will arrive as the leader of the Muslim community, and lead them as an avenging angel, as it were, to conquer the whole world under the banner of Islam. In the process, he and his Muslim armies will slaughter all Christians and Jews (and any pagans as well) who refuse to convert to Islam. This is apparently what Moghul means in his deceptive article when he says that Muslims believe Jesus “will someday return to fill a volatile world with goodness.”
Haroon Moghul is so intent on combatting Islamophobia that he wants us to accept the notion that Christianity and Islam are really not that far apart. Sure, he says, you Christians speak of Jesus as the Son of God, and we don’t, but listen, we see Jesus as “a very special human being to whom God granted miracles.” The Qur’an has some exalted titles for him. You see, we love Jesus, too. And his mother as well – what a great gal she was. Christians and Muslims have so much in common after all.
So let’s all just get along together. Let’s get rid of this terrible Islamophobia by recognizing that Muslims aren’t enemies – we’re cousins whom you don’t know very well, but with some effort we can all kiss and make up. Never mind that Islam wants to destroy Christianity at its very core. Look beyond that. Let’s be friends because we share so much in common….
My response to Moghul is that the primary engine behind “Islamophobia” is not ignorance of Islam in the West (though that is inexcusable in this day and age) but the highly-justified fear of Islam and its adherents due to its supremacist ideology and violent methodology of jihadi conquest. No one had ever heard of “Islamophobia” before the 9/11 attacks. In the sixteen years since then, there have been over 32,000 deadly jihad attacks worldwide in the name of Islam. No other religion or ideology can hold a candle to the supernova that is Islam when it comes to the use of violence and deadly force to advance its agenda. If Moghul really wants to eradicate Islamophobia, he would do better to rally Muslims to a radical reformation of Islamic texts and practices which have caused so much evil than to use half-truths among Western audiences and in the process spread great lies.
When will Islamophobia end in the West?
When Muslim men are no longer the principal force behind the rape and sexual assault epidemics in Europe as a result of massive immigration from Islamic lands;
When honor-killings cease (91% of these happen in Islamic societies);
When women and non-Muslims are accorded the same human rights in Muslim lands as Muslim men;
When people are free to join or leave any religion without threat of force or death;
When anti-Semitism is eradicated from Muslim hearts;
When innocent civilians no longer feel threatened with vehicular attacks, knife-stabbings, mass shootings, suicide bombers, and explosives hurled into churches and synagogues, all accompanied by shouts of that Muslim supremacist slogan Allahu akbar (which does not mean “God is great,” but “God is greater,” i.e., our God will conquer any and every resister);
When Sharia law is no longer touted as perfect divine law which must one day replace all man-made systems of government.
Understanding some surface similarities between Islam and Christianity while ignoring the huge, glaring, irreconcilable differences results in telling half-truths that produce great lies. The Islamophobia about which Mr. Moghul is rightly concerned stems not from ignorance of Islam but from the contemporary, ugly, widespread fruit of Muslims claiming to act in the name of Islam and carrying our reprehensible deeds. His solution to stopping the spread of Western fears of the Muslim world is akin to seeking the halt of a hurtling car by believing the fluttering wings of a fly on the rear window are the source of its movement rather than the driver who is flooring the accelerator.
In fact, to many in the West, contemporary Islam appears much like a car hurtling out of control toward us, ready to mow down however many are in its way until it reaches its goal. Our Islamophobia stems from the perception of the very real dangers engendered by the deadly vehicle. Our fears have nothing to do with the cause of careening vehicle. We do not need to be told to give up our fear and just understand how much the driver is like us. What we need is for the driver’s family and friends in the car or on the phone with him to tell him to take his foot off the accelerator, move it to the break, and turn off the engine. Then our pedestrian fears will subside and life can get back to normal. We may even find it in our hearts to forgive the formerly treacherous driver and those who cheered him on.
No more half-truths, please!