Chapter 3: On Jesus and Muhammad
One day ‘Isa and Evan were having lunch together at the Boston College cafeteria, where the arguments were better than the food. ‘Isa asked Evan about the quid pro quo that Muslims often propose to Christians: “We accept your Jesus as a great prophet; why do you not accept our prophet Muhammad? We accept your scriptures and your prophets as sent by God. That is what the Qur’an says. So why do you not accept our scripture?”
“I have not read all of your Qur’an,” Evan admitted. “What does it say about our scriptures?”
‘Isa knew his Qur’an very well and was ready with the answer: “Here is what it says about the Jewish scriptures: ‘We gave Moses the Book...we appointed it for a guidance to the children of Israel’ (32:24). And here is what it says about the Christian scriptures: ‘We sent...Jesus son of Mary....We gave him the Gospel wherein is guidance and light’ (5:50). And then here is what it says about itself: ‘We have sent down to them the Book with the Truth, confirming the Book that was before it, and assuring it’ ”(5:52).
Evan had studied theology, and was ready with a reply: “But our two scriptures contradict each other about Jesus. Our Bible says that Jesus was more than a prophet, that he is the Son of God. And I think your scriptures deny that, don’t they?”
“Yes,” answered ‘Isa. “They do.”
“And two ideas that contradict each other can’t both be true, can they?”
“Of course not,” answered ‘Isa, who knew logic as well as Evan did.
“So one of our scriptures must teach something false.”
“And God never teaches what is false, does he?”
“So either your Qur’an or our New Testament is not from God. So if ours is, then yours is not. And if yours is, then ours is not. But you just said that the Qur’an says they are both from God. So the Qur’an must be wrong.”
“No,” explained ‘Isa, “the Qur’an is speaking about the Gospel God sent down from heaven, not the Gospel you have now. They are not the same. The Gospel God sent down did not claim that Jesus was the Son of God.”
“Where is this original gospel?” Evan wanted to know. “Show me a single sentence in it. Show me a single quotation from it. Show me a single reference to it by anybody, before the Qur’an. You can’t do it. There is no such book. It exists only in your imagination. The only Gospel is the New Testament as we
“But how do you know your New Testament as you have it is true? How do you know that Jesus really claimed to be the Son of God, as your New Testament says he did? How do you know your New Testament didn’t get the facts wrong, and that God didn’t correct the things that were wrong, later, by sending Muhammad and the Qur’an? That’s what we believe. How do you know that is not so?”
“That’s a fair question, ‘Isa.” Evan never called ‘Isa by his nickname, Jack, as Libby did. “Let me think for a minute . . . let’s see.
...I think I can explain to you why we Christians can’t accept your quid pro quo about Jesus and Muhammad if you will make a thought experiment with me. Suppose I said that your Qur’an got it wrong about Muhammad. Suppose I said that your original Qur’an was very different from the Qur’an you have now, and suppose I said that in this original Qur’an Muhammad never actually claimed to be a prophet at all. What would you say to that?”
“I’d say that was blasphemy. And also ridiculous and unfair: what right do you have to tell us what our scriptures really are and who our prophet really is?”
“And that is exactly what I say to you about Jesus: what right do you have to tell us what our scriptures really are and who Jesus really is?” “Oh, but there is a difference. The Qur’an came later. It corrects the New Testament. The New Testament can’t correct the Qur’an because the New Testament didn’t come after the Qur’an.”
“Are you assuming that just because the Qur’an is later, it is better and truer? That’s chronological snobbery. That’s telling the truth with a calendar.”
“No, I’m not assuming that.”
“Well, we Christians will accept your belief that Muhammad really said what your scriptures say he said. We will let you define your own prophet. But you don’t accept our belief that Jesus really said what our scriptures say he said, that he claimed to be the Son of God. So you do not let us define our own prophet. It is you who will not give us quid pro quo, not the other way round.”
‘Isa shook his head and smiled. “That sounds like a very clever argument, but we are arguing by different standards. You are judging scriptures by prophets. We judge prophets by scriptures.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“The primary object of your faith is Jesus, rather than your book, your New Testament, isn’t that right?”
“But the primary object of our faith is not Muhammad but the Qur’an. That is why we resented it when you used to call our religion Muhammadanism. That would be like calling Christianity ‘Saint Paulism’ or ‘Saint Peterism.’ ”
“I see,” Evan said. “Our two religions differ about what is the primary object of faith.”
“The primary object of faith on earth, yes. We have the same object of faith in heaven, God. And that is the same God, the one and only God, the God of Abraham. So we agree about the most
important thing, even if we disagree about the next two most important things, scriptures and prophets.”
“No, I don’t think that’s right,” protested Evan. “I don’t think we mean the same thing by God.”
“But of course we do!” answered ‘Isa, in a surprised tone of voice.
“No,” Evan pressed. “If you don’t worship the Father of Jesus, then we’re not worshiping the same God. Jesus said, ‘If you don’t know the Son, you don’t know the Father.’ And we believe him. And you don’t know Jesus as the Son, so you don’t know God the Father. So we have to believe your Allah is not the same God we worship, as you say he is. Our God has a Son. Yours doesn’t.”
“Evan, you know logic as well as I do, and that is just bad logic.”
“I will show you. You Christians all believe in the Trinity, don’t you?”
“And that means you say that God is three persons?”
“Yes. Not three Gods, three persons making up one God.”
“And some of you—Protestants and Roman Catholics, I think—believe that the third person, the Holy Spirit, proceeds from the Father and the Son, isn’t that right? Isn’t that in one of your creeds?”
“Yes, it’s in the Nicene Creed.”
“But Eastern Orthodox Christians don’t believe that, do they? They believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, not from the Father and the Son together, isn’t that right? Isn’t that one of the differences between you?”
“Yes. I’m surprised you know so much about Christianity.”
“Now you agree with the Western churches about this, rather than the Eastern churches, right?”
“Do you believe that Eastern Orthodox Christians worship the same God that you Western Christians do?”
“But you believe that they have that one thing wrong about the Trinity?”
“Yes . . .”
“Well, then, why don’t you use the same logic on them as you used on me? Why don’t you tell them that they are worshiping another God, a false God?”
Evan was silent, thinking. ‘Isa went on: “Or else, if you admit that you and they are worshiping the same God even though one of the two of you has this one thing wrong about God, namely, this thing about the Holy Spirit, then why can’t you say that Christians and Muslims are worshiping the same God even though one of those two religions has this one thing wrong about God, namely whether he is a Trinity or not?”
“That’s a good point of logic, ‘Isa. I will have to think about that,” answered Evan, scratching his beard.
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