“But this eternal truth is recited in time, in history, when it is proclaimed.”


“And this Qur’an is the Word of God?”


“So the Word of God happens, in time.”

“The recital of it happens. The truth of it is eternal,” ‘Isa said.

“But with that qualification, you would say that the eternal truth, the eternal Word of God, happens in time.”


“Well, we Christians say the same thing about Jesus.”

“But when you Christians say ‘the Word of God,’ you mean a person, not a book.”

“We mean first of all the person, yes, but also, secondly, the book. But you put the book first.”

“We do.”

“I think we disagree with you about that. We believe in the primacy of the person, the power of the person, the value of the person first of all.”

“Perhaps that is because you do not understand the power of a book,” ‘Isa retorted. “We do. We Muslims understand the power of the Word, the spoken word. It is like the power of music. And in that way, I think perhaps we understand even your book, your Bible, better than you do.”

“What do you mean? Are you saying you understand Christianity better than Christians do?”

“No, I meant the power of your book, not its teachings. Your book, your Bible, was once very powerful in your culture, was it not? It was once much more like the Qur’an in that way. Your old King James Bible: everyone read it and loved it and knew it and believed it and memorized it and preached from it and recited it. It had power over your souls and over your culture. It used to sing in your souls. And now it no longer sings. Because now you have twenty different new sissy translations that sound like interoffice business memos, all dull and f lat and ugly and weak, and you have lost its power over your souls.”

Though Evan listened to this tirade with an uncomprehending frown, Fr. Heerema listened intently and sympathetically, and replied, “ ‘Isa, I think you are right there. I think we may need you Muslims to remind us of the power of our own written Word.”

Evan had to go to another class, so ‘Isa and Fr. Heerema continued their conversation over lunch. ‘Isa tried his quid pro quo argument on him.

“You understand why we Muslims can’t accept your claim for Jesus to be more than a prophet. Can you explain to me why you Christians can’t accept our claim for Muhammad to be a prophet?”

“I will make a deal with you, ‘Isa. I will try to explain why we are skeptical of your claim about Muhammad if you will tell me why you are skeptical of our claim about Jesus.”

‘Isa accepted the deal. “That’s easy. The Qur’an says: ‘How should he have a son when he had no consort?’ It is blasphemous to think of God having a consort, God coming down to make a woman pregnant. That’s what the false, corrupt gods of the pagans did. The Qur’an calls this idea not only false but ‘monstrous falsehood, at which the very heavens might crack, the earth break asunder, and the mountains crumble to dust.’ ”

“Oh. I see. Well, I think that is a very good reason and a very bad reason.”

“How can it be both?”

“It is a very good reason because if that is how you understand the word son—literally—then you are absolutely right to call this a blasphemous idea. But it is a very bad reason because that is not how Christians understand the word son. Don’t you ever interpret religious language symbolically?”

“No, the Qur’an is literal divine speech, for all Muslims. Even the Sufis, who add many mystical meanings, accept the literal meaning first.”

“I think perhaps that is a deep source of our misunderstanding: our different attitudes toward language—as we saw a few minutes ago when we spoke about the power of the written word. Tell me, if you will, please: if you interpret everything in the Qur’an literally, do you also interpret the following passage literally? After rejecting the Christian claim that Jesus is Allah’s Son, Muhammad adds, ‘But if the Lord of Mercy had a son, I would be the first to worship him’ (Qur’an 43:80-81). ”

“Yes, of course, we take that literally. Especially the ‘if.’ ”

“But why did Muhammad add that?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps it was to show Muslims that these Christian heretics were not intending to blaspheme. That’s what you said about us: you said we had a good intention, a good reason for not worshiping Jesus. You agree with our motive, but not with our theology. And perhaps the Qur’an is agreeing with the Christians’ motives, but not with their theology.”

“And that is a very deep spiritual understanding, don’t you think, ‘Isa? To understand the good motives of the people who believe something you think is very, very wrong?”

“It is indeed.”

“In fact, I think an agreement about motives is an even deeper agreement than an agreement about theology. Jesus and the Pharisees had the same theology, but very different motives, very different states of soul.”

“You are saying that religion is far more important than theology.”

“Yes. Theology is the road map; religion is the journey.”

“I think every Muslim would agree with you there.”

“Thank you, ‘Isa. That is very gratifying to me. And to God, I think. Even though the theological differences remain, and they are essential, and we cannot overcome them. There is still an unbridgeable canyon between us in theology.”

“The canyon is unbridgeable from us to you, but not from you to us.”

“What do you mean?”

“We would have to leap an infinite chasm to accept your claim about Jesus. But you would have to take only one small step to accept our claim about Muhammad. I still don’t understand why you Christians can’t take that one small step?”

“Your quid pro quo again. Didn’t we answer that question in our conversation with Evan? It’s just not logically possible.”

“Go over it again, please. I’m not convinced that it’s not logically possible.”

“All right. A prophet of God never speaks falsehood, right?”


“But Muhammad said that Jesus was not the Son of God, right?”


“And divinely inspired scriptures never speak falsehood, right?”


“And the Qur’an denies that Jesus is the Son of God, right?”


“You see what logically follows. If the New Testament is right, Muhammad cannot be a true prophet. That logically follows. It’s not because of our lack of appreciation for Muhammad that we can’t accept your claim about him, it’s because of our loyalty to Christ. To accept Muhammad as a prophet, we would have to abandon the New Testament. But to accept Christ as a prophet you do not have to abandon the Qur’an. So the gap is an unbridgeable one for us, not for you—exactly the opposite of what you said.”

“Well, where do you think the Qur’an came from then, if not from God?”

“I don’t know. Let’s think about that together, shall we? Let’s look at the alternatives.”

Read Part 1:"Between Allah & Jesus: Part 1"

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