C.S. Lewis was an excellent author and noteworthy Christian thinker. The recent big screen success of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader have brought a few of his works to popular attention. The Chronicles of Narnia is a seven book series that tells the adventures of the Pevensies children and their relatives in the land of Narnia. The last book of the series tells of the overthrow of Narnia by their enemies the Calormenes. The Calormenes are a warlike people who worship the vulture headed, winged god Tash. The Narnians worship the true god and creator of their world, Aslan. C.S. Lewis very intentionally uses his work to depict some of the great doctrines of Christianity. Aslan is an unmistakeable picture of Jesus. Aslan’s death on the stone table in place of Edmund retells the death of Jesus on the cross for mankind. Likewise, Lewis includes other obvious imagery. The Calormenes are a very Turkish people obviously intended to bear strong resemblance to the Muslim countries.
In The Last Battle a sincere young Calormene soldier who devoutly worships Tash comes face to face with Aslan. The soldier is terrified because he has served Aslan’s enemy all his life and he now expects to be slain by Aslan. The Lion does not kill the young man but tells him something very surprising. All the good and sincere worship that was heaped upon Tash was accepted by Aslan as given to himself. Because Tash and Aslan are complete opposites, all evil done in Aslan’s name is actually done for Tash. All good done in Tash’s name is actually done for Aslan. Though the worshiper was mistaken in the object of his worship Aslan received all good as done for him.
The theological point Lewis appears to be making is that all those who worship in goodness and sincerity will be received by God. Though they think their worship is to a different god, the true God will accept all honorable and devout worship. This argument is still being made today. Some of those who say Allah and God are the same mean to say that it doesn’t matter what you call your god. If you are sincere in your attempts to do good and serve your god, then the true God will accept your worship. Is this true? Does God accept all sincere worship as if it was done for Him?
Recently I answered the assertion that Allah and God are really the same god. In March of last year I addressed why sincere worship is not by itself acceptable to God. God does not accept well intentioned but misplaced worship, because He accepts none apart from Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Only Jesus has done that which is acceptable to God. God does not accept any man because of sincerity or goodness. God does not accept any worship apart from Jesus. God only accepts those who have been made righteous in Jesus.
The apostle Paul confronted the Athenians for their sincere but wrong worship. Acts 17 shows that they were deeply religious. They were so careful in their worship they built a statue to the unknown god in case they accidentally overlooked the worship of a god. Paul came to Athens and taught them of the the god they did not know. He did not comfort them that God accepted their sincere worship. He told them who is the true God and instructed them to repent of their wrong worship because God would judge them. Their well intentioned worship was not acceptable to God. In fact, their rejection of the gospel showed they were not seeking to truly worship God. Their worship of another god was rebellion against God. They did not want to worship the true God. So it is with all who worship another god. Their worship is not acceptable to God because it is in fact rebellion against Him. Only those who have trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of sin are redeemed by His blood and are accepted of God.
The political turmoil in the world has brought to the forefront many questions about Islam. Some of these questions stem from curiosity about the beliefs of Muslims. Some of these questions stem from declarations made on the news or other pundits. One particular declaration demands careful consideration. A few weeks ago Pope Francis weighed in and repeated the common assertion that Allah is really the same as Jehovah. Is this claim true? Is the God of Quran the same as the God of the Bible?
Certainly Allah and Jehovah have much in common. They are both creator gods who rule supreme over all creation. They are both almighty, compassionate and just. They both offer eternal bliss to those who worship them. Neither shares worship with other gods, but declares himself to be the only true God. Even their common names seem to hint that these gods may be one and the same. In the Old Testament, God is identified as El and Elohim. Both words are generic Hebrew names for deities. The name Allah is rooted in the generic Arabic word for a deity. The similarity between the two terms even carries across in their English transliterations. Many have used these linguistic similarities to argue that El and Allah are just different names for the same God.
On the surface, these sound like reasonable arguments. With a little bit deeper digging it soon becomes evident that, despite some similiarities, the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are nothing alike. Consider three major differences. Allah is a single God, no deities are equal with him and his person is single. Jehovah is a triune God. No deities are equal with him and His person is triune. The Quran distinctly teaches that Allah has no parts, nor persons. The Bible distinctly teaches that Jehovah is one God who consists of three persons. Allah is not a Triune God, Jehovah is. Closely related to the first difference is the difference in their relationship to Jesus. Allah has no Son and none are equal with him. Jesus is not the Son of Allah. Jesus is not Allah made flesh. Jehovah has a Son who is fully God. Jesus is God made flesh, the second person of the Trinity. Jehovah is Jesus. Jesus is not Allah, Jesus is Jehovah. A third example is that of the grace of god. Allah saves according to his grace. His salvation is given to those who earned his grace by their submission to him. Allah’s grace is granted to those who deserve it. Jehovah saves according to His grace. His grace is given to those who do not try to earn it. The Bible presents God’s grace as something that cannot be merited. As Paul says in Romans 11:6, if grace is earned it is not grace. Though many similarities exist between Allah and Jehovah, even a brief comparison reveals the differences make it impossible for the two gods to be the same.
Consider someone who claims to have met your wife. As he talks about her he has some basic details correct. She is female, lives in your house, cooks meals for the family and likes to watch TV with you. As the conversation continues it becomes apparent that the other also believes your wife to be an 8 foot tall, green skinned ogress who rips the heads off small dogs. If you were protest that your wife is not actually a violent, green monster it would be ludicrous for the speaker to insist you are both talking about the same person. The similarities between the character being spoken of and the actual spouse in question do not outweigh the monumental differences. Though there are many similarities between Jehovah and Allah, the monumental differences render it impossible for them to be the same. Only one conclusion is possible, Christians and Muslims worship very different Gods.
With the current unrest in the world because of the recent attacks by the Islamic state and the refugee crisis it has spawned, it behooves us to consider the meaning of jihad. Jihad has no single meaning or application among Muslims. Several major teachings exist about jihad. These teachings are all valid expression of Islam and have a lineage of followers tracing back centuries. Even though the different groups of Islam disagree very strongly with one another, none can say the others teaching of jihad is not consistent with historical Islam. This article does not attempt to discuss which definition of jihad most accurately reflects the teachings of the Quran or of Muhammed. The issue of rightness and wrongness is necessarily left out of this discussion.
Most define jihad as a holy war, though some prefer to use other terms that do not have a violent undertone to them. It seems that the vast majority of Muslims understand jihad in terms of a personal battle against evil in one’s own life. For many Muslims, jihad is the war in oneself to do that which is acceptable to Allah. Jihad is the personal battle to walk in the way of Allah. This is by far the most common definition of jihad, and one that Muslim apologists are quick to cite as proof that jihad is not actually violent. Personal jihad against one’s own evil inclinations is not the only meaning of jihad. Some see jihad as a peaceful struggle against injustice and poverty. In this version of jihad, the battle is against societal ills and the inequality of the world that results in poverty and unjust treatment of others. This version of jihad might also include the peaceful attempts to bring Sharia law into a community or nation. The third major understanding of jihad is the one most commonly associated with those who commit acts of terrorism. This understanding of jihad sees it as justified violence against non-Muslims for Allah’s sake. They see attacks upon infidels and non-Muslim nations as necessary for the spread of Islam and as preemptive strikes to defend Muslim countries against the encroachment of the nations. Not every Muslim accepts a violent interpretation of jihad, nor do only the terrorists group accept the violent definition. In all three cases jihad is a holy war against the forces of evil in this world. The differences lie in understanding who the enemy is and how to best combat that enemy.
Some Muslims hearing this range of definitions would protest that one or more are not right. Many Muslims deny the validity of one or more common expression of jihad. This should not be surprising. Most major religions have disagreements regarding the right understanding of particular teachings. Among Christians there is widespread disagreement about baptism. Baptism is understood to be sprinkling water on a person, pouring water on a person or immersing a person in water. Some groups accept all three modes as valid and some groups accept only one mode as valid. Baptism is believed by some to be an act of dedication performed upon an infant, an act which brings a baby into the family of God, an act which testifies of salvation received or an act which brings salvation. The varied beliefs about baptism come from different interpretations of what the Bible teaches, but they are all mainstream beliefs among Christianity. One can argue that a particular group’s belief about baptism is not Biblical. One can argue that a particular belief about baptism is contrary to the message of Christianity, but one cannot legitimately argue that a particular belief about baptism is not a historical expression of Christianity. In similar fashion, no consensus Islamic teaching about jihad exists. Many groups hold and teach different meanings about jihad and would argue very strongly against certain other teachings of jihad. All of the major teachings of jihad find strong support within Islam. The violent and non-violent applications of jihad are legitimate, historical Islamic interpretations that have existed for centuries.
Jihad has a range of meanings, all based upon different interpretations of the Quran. Not all who practice jihad are bent on the destruction of western society. Many Muslims who practice jihad vigorously condemn the Islamic kamikaze who perpetrate terrorist attacks. But not all. When jihad is discussed it is always wisest to ask what the speaker means and not assume a definition based upon the peaceful protests of one group or the violent denunciations of another.
ISIS is the name given to a movement within Islam that is seeking to establish Islamic rule and help bring about the end times. ISIS is short for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The group is also called ISIL, Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Levant being an ancient name for the region along the eastern shores of the Meditteranean, including Turkey and Egypt) and the Islamic State. ISIS broke away from al-Qaeda over ideological difference and a couple months ago al-Qaeda declared war on ISIS. ISIS follows the teachings of the Quran and believes the world of infidels, those who reject Islam, must be brought under Islamic domination. ISIS believes violent means to coerce men to submit to Allah are the means prescribed in the Quran for the spread of Islam.
ISIS has as its goal a revival of ancient Islam under a caliph. Abu Bakr al-Baghadi is the caliph, a ruler who claims to be spiritual successor to Muhammad. Under Baghadi’s direction ISIS is seeking to expand throughout Syria and Iraq and then into the outlying nations. To accomplish this goal, warfare, terror and brutality are believed to be required of them by the Quran. Diplomacy and negotation with foreign power is considered apostasy. It appears that the Islamic State’s focus on expansion is limited right now to its closest neighbors. Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS is not likely to attempt a massive attack on America. Their ideology requires them to spread outward from Syria and only when the nearby countries have been conquered can it then turn its attention to a major terror assault on America. (Though some individuals with ties to ISIS may attempt attacks on American targets)
ISIS believes its caliphate is the only righteous government on earth. ISIS is serious about obeying the Quran, following a very literal and narrow reading of the Quran. The Islamic State is attempting to return Islam to the religion it was in its earliest days and to bring the rest of the Islamic world under its control. ISIS also sees itself as playing an important role in the end times. They believe the Quran prophecies of the role ISIS will play in the end. To accomplish these apocalyptic purposes, ISIS is seeking military expansion in preparation for the great battles that will surround the end times.
It is important to highlight two things. First, ISIS is not representative of all Islam. Not every Muslim believes it is acceptable to force others to convert. Some groups loudly condemn the destruction of groups like ISIS and base their disagreements in the Quran. Some verses in the Quran condemn killing and advocate tolerance. “You have your religion and I have mine.” (Surah 109:6) “There is no compulsion in relgion.” (Surah 2:256) Second, groups that condone coercion and violence also do so based upon the teachings of the Quran. The one who dies in the cause of Allah is assured forgiveness and a place in Paradise. Groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda are offering a historically valid understanding of the Quran that has been promoted and supported from Islam’s own scholars throughout the centuries. Though some, possibly the majority, of Muslims disagree with the Islamic State’s interpretation of the Quran, the jihadists and the moderates are both historically legitimate expressions of Islam. ISIS is radical and terroristic, but none can honestly say that it is not an orthodox expression of Islamic teaching.
Tune in to 92.7 FM this Sunday morning at 9 AM to hear our pastors further discuss the question of Islam.