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Answering Islam Regarding The Bible The Call of the Minaret

by Terry L. Frazier

Joseph Smith and Shirley MacLaine are not alone when they use the line, "What Jesus really taught was not today's Christianity, but...[fill in the blank: Mormonism, reincarnation, whatever]." No one has been able to parallel Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, in creating a new Jesus out of the historic Christian teaching.

While Islam always has been a fierce competitor in missionary fields, it recently has begun having success similar to Mormonism's and the New Age movement's here in the United States. This was pointedly brought home to me recently by meeting two ex-Catholics (one claiming to be an ex-CCD instructor) who had converted to that religion and who now go around giving seminars on how to proselytize Christians.

In Mecca around A.D. 610, Mohammed began claiming to have revelations which he said he received from the angel Gabriel (cf. Gal.1:8). All these individual revelations, some immediately written down by his followers and others simply committed to memory, were gathered together at Mohammed's death in 632. The collection of revelations as a whole is called the "Qur'an" (the recitation) and each individual revelation is called a "surah," there being 114 surahs of varying length in the Qur'an.

The Caliph 'Uthman, the third Caliph to rule the Islamic theocracy (A.D. 644-656), ordered the final canonization of the Qur'an to settle disputes over the content of the text. Thus was produced in 657, twenty-five years after Mohammed's death, the authoritative version of the Qur'an which we know today. All other copies were ordered destroyed, which is an interesting historical fact in light of the undying Islamic polemic about Jews and Christians being unable to establish the integrity of the biblical texts.

According to the Qur'an, all the prophets going back to Abraham preached a simple monotheism called Islam (submission). Jesus, called "Isa" in the Qur'an, is only a prophet and not God. He too preached Islam and even prophesied the coming of Mohammed as the final prophet. The Qur'an teaches that Jesus was not crucified and will not be resurrected until the Day of Resurrection at the end of time.

Of course, if Jesus taught Islam and never claimed to be God, Jesus' message must have become corrupted at the very beginning. Consequently the Muslim takes a similar view to that of the Mormon in regard to the Bible. He reveres the Bible as a divine revelation, albeit a corrupted one.

(It is the rare Muslim who asks himself why God would fail to preserve his previous revelations from corruption. This attitude is especially curious when it is considered that the Qur'an itself regards the Bible so highly that Muslims are instructed to listen and believe what it teaches (e.g. Surahs al-Baqarah 2:136, Yunus 10:94, and al-'Ankabut 29:46).)

Moses and Jesus are often the focus of attention in Islamic evangelization because they are perceived as common ground. Though the Muslim regards the Bible as divine revelation gone wrong, yet out of this mass of textual corruption he believes he can glean enough genuine truth to persuade the Christian to submit to Allah (God).

One of the standard methods is to show the prospective convert to Islam that both Moses and Jesus predicted the advent of Mohammed.

Frequently the Muslim evangelist will go to Deuteronomy 18, where God promises Moses a messianic prophet: "The nations [in Palestine] you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your own brethren. You must listen to him" (18:14-15). Christians have seen verse 15 as a prophecy of Christ who is described in the NeTestament as the "second Moses." How then do Muslims see here a prophecy concerning Mohammed?

Muhammad Asad, in his recent commentary on the Qur'an, writes on Surah al-Baqarah 2:42 ("and do not overlay the truth with falsehood, and do not knowingly suppress the truth"), saying, "By 'overlaying the truth with falsehood' is meant the corrupting of the biblical text, of which the Qur'an frequently accuses the Jews (and which has since been established by objective textual criticism), while the 'suppression of the truth' refers to their disregard or deliberately false interpretation of the words of Moses in the biblical passage, 'The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken' (Deut. 18:15), and the words attributed to God himself, 'I will raise them up a prophet from among thy brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth' (Deut. 18:18). The 'brethren' of the children of Israel are obviously the Arabs, and particularly the
musta`ribah (`Arabianized') group among them, which traces its descent to Ishmael and Abraham: and since it is this group that the Arabian Prophet's own tribe, the Quraysh, belonged, the above biblical passages must be taken as referring to his advent."(Muhammad Asad, The Message of The Qur'an (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1984), 10-11.)

So who are Moses' "brethren" in Deuteronomy 18:15-18? When God, addressing the Israelite nation through Moses, says the prophet would arise "from among you" (v. 15), it is clearly Moses' fellow Israelites who are indicated. Nor is this at all an unusual use of the word "brethren." The same word, for example, explicitly signifies a fellow Hebrew in Deuteronomy 15:12. Remember, the twelve tribes of Israel were brothers to one another since each was descended from one of the original twelve brethren, the twelve sons of Jacob.

This passage in Deuteronomy is the only one in the Pentateuch which indicates an actual prophetic office in Israel, and it occurs within a passage which warns Israel against adopting the paganism and spiritism of her neighbors (18:9-13). It sets standards for judging whether or not someone is a false prophet (18:19-22), for many pagans claimed revelations from their pagan deities.

Divination was rife, and ecstatic utterances, sorcery, dreams and visions were part and parcel of daily religious life. Thus we see in verse 14 that God expressly forbids Israel to listen to these foreign religious leaders. The story of Balaam is an account of one such Arab "prophet" at the time (Num. 22:5ff.) who led the people astray (Num. 31:8, 16; 2 Pet. 2:15; Rev. 2:14).

 The prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18 would not be a foreigner simply because foreign prophets always are portrayed as leading the Israelites into trouble and bringing the judgment of God upon them (e.g. Isa. 2:6).

Finally, Asad's comment that "objective textual criticism" has "established" that the text of the Bible is corrupt could only be made by someone oblivious to research in the Dead Sea scrolls. In answering the question whether the Masoretic text of the Old Testament faithfully represents what was written by the Old Testament authors, the sober and restrained reply of one biblical scholar, F. F. Bruce, was that "the Qumran discoveries have enabled us to answer this question in the affirmative with much greater assurance than was possible before 1947 [when the scrolls were discovered]."(F. F. Bruce,
The Books and The Parchments (Old Tappan: Revell, 1984), 115.) P. C. Craigie, commenting on the book of Deuteronomy in particular, states that "the evidence of the Scrolls shows the remarkable accuracy with which the ancient Hebrew text [of Deuteronomy] had been transcribed from an early date."(Peter Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 35.)

Muslims love to cite the "Paraclete" passages in John's Gospel as evidence of Mohammed's advent. Recall that during the Last Supper our Lord promised to send the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, after he had returned to the Father. One such passage is John 16:13, which reads, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own initiative, but whatever he hears, he will speak; and he will disclose to you what is to come." (Other Paraclete passages in John are 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-8, 13-14; see also 1 John 2:1, where Jesus himself is called the Paraclete.)

Maurice Bucaille, a French physician and convert to Islam, is the author of a book which is popular among Muslims,
The Bible, The Qur'an and Science. He argues that John 16:13 must be a reference to the prophet Mohammed: "It seems inconceivable that one could ascribe to the Holy Spirit the ability to speak and declare whatever he hears." Bucaille is mystified. He demands to know why the Holy Spirit can speak and hear. "Logic demands that this question be raised, but to my knowledge it is usually not the subject of commentaries."(Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, The Qur'an and Science (Indianapolis: American Trust, 1979), 104.)

After noting that the Greek verb
'akouo does indeed mean "to hear" and the Greek verb 'laleo does indeed mean "to speak," Bucaille concludes that the Paraclete must be "a being with hearing and speech organs."(Ibid., 105.) So how are we then to understand John 16:13? "Jesus therefore predicts that God will later send a human being to Earth to take up the role defined by John, i.e. to be a prophet."(Ibid., 106.) Of course this "prophet" could be none other than Mohammed. (Yes, such reasoning makes converts.)

The Bible regularly ascribes human attributes to God in order to help us conceive the inconceivable deity, to g.asp the infinite with our finite minds. These are called anthropomorphisms. God is said to have eyes (Gen. 6:8), ears (Ps. 17:1), a mouth (Deut. 8:3), lips (Ps. 17:4), arms (Ex. 6:6), and a heart (Gen. 6:6). God is said to live (Job 27:2), to speak (Deut. 5:24), to hear (Isa. 37:4; Lk. 1:13), to change his mind (Gen. 6:5-7), and even to move from place to place (Gen. 11:5).

 Such examples are in the New Testament as well, though they are not as numerous. The point is that ascribing physical attributes to God in no way prevents the Bible from saying that God is spirit (John 4:24), and it is this same Spirit referred to in John 16:13.

The Qur'an also employs anthropomorphisms. In regard to the Spirit "hearing" and "speaking," we should note that the Qur'an refers to Allah as the One Who Hears in Surah al-Imran 3:34, "And Allah heareth...all things." Allah is said to speak directly to man in Surah al-Ma'idah 5:116, "And Allah said: 'O Isa [Jesus], son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men...'" Surely we are not to conclude that Allah is "a being with hearing and speech organs"!

A Paraclete verse commonly used by the Muslim missionary is John 14:16, which reads, "And I [Jesus] will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [
Paracleton], that he may be with you forever."

Muhammad Asad, commenting on Surah as-Saff 61:6, where Isa (Jesus) is supposedly predicting the coming of Mohammed ("an apostle who shall come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad"), explains that the word
Parakletos "is almost certainly a corruption of Periklytos ('the Much-Praised'), an exact Greek translation of the Aramaic term or name Mawhamana. (It is to be borne in mind that Aramaic was the language used in Palestine at the time of, and for some centuries after, Jesus and was thus undoubtedly the language in which the original--now lost--texts of the Gospels were composed.) In view of the phonetic closeness of Periklytos and Parakletos it is easy to understand how the translator--or, more probably, a later scribe--confused these two expressions. It is significant that both the Aramaic Mawhamana and the Greek Periklytos have the same meaning as the two names of the Last Prophet, Muhammad and Ahmad, both of which are derived from the Hebrew verb hamida ('he praised') and the Hebrew noun hamd ('praise')."(Asad, 861.) In other words, Jesus not only predicted the coming of Mohammed, but called him by name as well!

This argument rests on so many errors and unsubstantiated premises that it would require a separate article to respond to it properly. Despairing to address each error, let us simply note that there is no basis in the discipline of textual criticism for the assertion that Paraclete "is almost certainly a corruption of
Periklytos." The reading Paraclete is well attested to in a sea of manuscript evidence. There are around 5,000 ancient Greek manuscripts which contain all or part of the New Testament,(Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of The New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University, 2nd. ed. 1968), 36. This book is an excellent overview of the science of New Testament textual criticism and is must reading for the Catholic apologist.) our oldest fragment of the Gospel of John dating only 35 years after the original penned by the apostle himself, which, if the majority of scholars is to be believed, was written in Greek and not in Aramaic, as Asad so confidently asserts.

Compare this abundance of textual material with Caesar's Gallic War, composed between B.C. 58-50. While there are several extant manuscripts, only nine or ten are any good, and the oldest was transcribed nearly a millennium after Caesar's lifetime. Homer's Iliad, the "bible" of the classical world, is preserved in only 457 papyri, 2 uncial manuscripts, and 188 minuscule manuscripts.

 Confronted with this, the New Testament scholar can only blush at his own wealth.

The traditional reading of Paraclete is not even the subject of discussion among modern textual critics, nor was it among the early Christians. Tertullian twice cites John 14:16 using the word Paraclete in his
Against Praxeas (9:3; 25:1). Irenaeus in the second century states the Comforter (Paraclete) comes from the Father (Against Heresies III:17:2), confirming what is said in John 15:26.

On the other hand, scanning the standard Greek lexicons reveals the word
Periklytos (famous, renowned) is found exclusively in Homeric Greek. Hephaestus, for example, is called Periklytos in the Iliad (mid-eighth century B.C.). The word is absent from the Koine Greek spoken at the time of Christ; indeed, it is absent from the Attic Greek spoken before that. In other words, Periklytos is found nowhere in the Greek Septuagint, the New Testament, or in any of the early Christian literature. Enough said.

But Muhammad Asad doesn't believe enough has been said. He continues his commentary on Surah as-Saff 61:6 as follows: "An even more unequivocal prediction [by Jesus] of the advent of the Prophet Muhammad--mentioned by name, in its Arabic form--is said to be forthcoming from the so-called
Gospel of Barnabas, which, though now regarded as apocryphal, was accepted as authentic and was read in the churches until the year 496 of the Christian era, when it was banned as 'heretical' by the decree of Pope Gelasius. However, since the original text of that Gospel is not now available (having come down to us only in an Italian translation dating from the late sixteenth century), its authenticity cannot be established with certainty."(Asad, 861.)

To say that the authenticity of the
Gospel of Barnabas "cannot be established with certainty" is stating the situation mildly. The Gospel of Barnabas is, in fact, a blatant forgery.

A
Gospel of Barnabas was condemned in a document known as the Decree of Gelasius, which was itself a compilation of various documents from various sources. It was written sometime before the sixth century, though not by Pope Gelasius. It seems certain that the books condemned had not been seen by the author of the decree. This Gospel of Barnabas also appears on the List of the Sixty Books (no. 24 of "such as are Apocryphal") drawn up in the seventh century, probably using the Decree of Gelasius as a source. The opinion of M. R. James, however, is that "the existence of a Gospel of Barnabas is most doubtful."(Montague Rhodes James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1st ed. 1924; reprinted and corrected 1980), 22.) Seeing how these seem to be our first historical references to such a Gospel, James is quite likely correct in questioning whether the condemned gospel ever even existed (much less regularly was "read in the churches until the year 496").

Our present
Gospel of Barnabas surfaced in an Italian manuscript in the eighteenth century, and its author was apparently aware of these references to a condemned Gospel under that name. This Italian fiction should have been entitled The Gospel According to Mohammed, for it presents the "Isa" of the Qur'an, even citing the Qur'an.

 It also seems to allude in canto 135 to Dante's Divine Comedy, a fourteenth-century Italian work, by describing hell as having seven levels as in the Inferno.

A man for whom Dante had very little love was Pope Boniface VIII, as can easily be seen in the
Inferno (cantos 19 and 27). In 1300 this Pope declared the Church's first jubilee, which was to be a centennial. It is interesting that Pope Boniface, called "the Servant of Servants," is alluded to in Dante's seventh circle of Hell, where "whoever...pauses a moment must lie a hundred years" (canto 15). A subtle dig at the Pope's jubilee? In any event, whether through Dante or not, Pope Boniface's jubilee has certainly found its way into chapter 82 of our Gospel of Barnabas, where Jesus states it was the practice of the Jews to celebrate a 100-year jubilee. In reality they celebrated jubilees each fiftieth year (Lev. 25:8-55).

The
Gospel of Barnabas naturally denies the deity of Christ and it has Jesus (predictably enough) prophesying the advent of Mohammed. It also denies that Jesus is the Christ, instead giving the title "Messiah" to Mohammed (chs. 82 and 192).(A fact openly admitted by Muslim scholar and Gospel-of-Barnabas advocate M. A. Yusseff in footnote 341 to his commentary on this Gospel (The Gospel of Barnabas [Indianapolis: American Trust, 1990], 201).) This contradicts both the Bible (Matt.16:15-20) and the Qur'an itself in Surah al-Imran 3:45, "Lo, the angels said: 'O Mary! Behold, Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from him: his [Jesus'] name will be Christ [al-masih; lit., "Messiah"].'"

This "Gospel" can be found in nearly every mosque and Islamic bookstore in the country because Muslims like to believe it is authentic. Needless to say, it is at times appealed to in order to help validate Islam to Christians. That Asad dragged this bogus
Gospel of Barnabas into his commentary as an "unequivocal prediction of the advent of the Prophet Muhammad" goes beyond simple academic sloppiness. It is an acute embarrassment.

No look at evangelical Islam would be complete without including the zany Ahmed Deedat, who bounces around the Western world seeking Christians with whom he can match wits in debate (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8-9). He once debated the late, great Jimmy Swaggart and, another time, the considerably more respectable Josh McDowell, author of
Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Deedat has floating around many little books which are intended to convince the skeptical mind to heed the call of the minaret.

One such little book is entitled
Al-Qur'an, The Ultimate Miracle. In only 75 pages, "Using the ultimate in scientific proof, namely, Mathematics, Mr. Deedat discusses herein Physical, Examinable [sic] evidence that the QUR'AN is the Infallible Word of GOD."(Cited from the front cover.) Pretty big claim, huh?

Deedat attempts to make good on this promise by seizing upon a single verse in the Qur'an, Surah al-Muddaththir 74:30, which reads cryptically: "Over it are nineteen." What could this possibly mean? Not to worry, Deedat will explain. We are to believe that surah 74:30 means the number nineteen will hang over the unbeliever in hell as a perpetual rebuke, for if he had only looked closely he would have perceived that this number occurs in groups, multiples, and patterns throughout the Qur'an.

Nineteen is the mystical key to the Qur'an and the sign to infidels that the book could not possibly have been written by Mohammed himself.

Actually, as Deedat himself admits, most classical commentators on the Qur'an see the nineteen as the nineteen angels that are the guardians of hell, as is stated in the very next verse: "But We have set none but angels as guardians of the Fire" (v. 31). Taking verse 30 in context, the idea is that those who deliberately reject Islam will endure eternal suffering in hell, and "over it [i.e. hell] are nineteen [i.e. angels]." In no way can the passage be made to mean that, if one searches hard enough, one will uncover patterns and groups of nineteen throughout the pages of the Qur'an itself. There is simply nothing in the context to suggest this.

No matter, Deedat is not deterred by context. He proceeds to make the number nineteen and multiples of nineteen pop out in intricate patterns all over the place, thereby "proving" the divine inspiration of the Qur'an since no human literary art could possibly pen such an amazing pattern of "nineteens." Need we remark that such an absurd approach could be used to prove the inspiration of the
Yellow Pages? His method is primitive, and his books would be unworthy of comment if they did not wield such a disproportionate influence over Islamic apologetics.

The standard evangelistic approach of the Islamic missionary is to discredit the Bible, usually by appealing to liberal scholarship which sees Scripture as "mythology," while simultaneously appealing to this supposedly debunked Bible to demonstrate that Jesus predicted the coming of Mohammed. The missionary will attempt to establish the inspiration of the Qur'an by making fantastic claims that it predicted space travel, that it gives the distance from the Earth to the moon, that it gives instructions for open heart surgery, that it describes in detail the development of the fetus in the womb, and so on. The book by Maurice Bucaille cited above is one example of this evangelistic methodology.

The three most important words in dealing with the enthusiastic Muslim are: "context," "context," and "context." Once he begins to claim that Moses foresaw the advent of Mohammed or that the Qur'an anticipated the findings of modern science, politely bring him back to the context of the biblical (or qur'anic) passage in question. Do that, and you will usually bring the conversation back to reality.

It is then that you will be able to share with him the historic Catholic faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. "For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God's plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit...The virginity of Mary, her giving birth, and also the death of the Lord, were hidden from the prince of this world--three mysteries loudly proclaimed, but wrought in the silence of God."(Ignatius of Antioch in his epistle to the Ephesians (vv. 18-19), which he wrote while under arrest and heading to Rome for his martyrdom, A.D. 110.)

The Author: Terry L. Frazier, is a freelance writer based in Southern California

This article originally appeared under the title of: The Call of the Minaret.

With Acknowledgement to: www.catholic.com/this rock/1992/9204fea1.asp






Version: 17th June 2010

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