This is a continuation of my posts in the series "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.As you read the Koran, you come away with the understanding of the impersonal nature of Allah and the need for human works and ceremony to service and conciliate Him towards mankind. In this service, religion is central and any relationship with God is no where to be seen other than to be servants and slaves of His will and His compreciousnesses. Philip Schaff describes Allah and the religion He mandates as follows.
"But Allah is a God of infinite power and wisdom, not a God of redeeming love to all mankind; a despotic sovereign of trembling subjects and slaves, not a loving Father of trustful children. He is an object of reverence and fear rather than of love and gratitude. He is the God of fate who has unalterably foreordained all things evil as well as good; hence unconditional resignation to him (this is the meaning of Islâm) is true wisdom and piety. He is not a hidden, unknowable being, but a God who has revealed himself through chosen messengers, angelic and human. Adam, Noah, Abraham Moses, and Jesus are his chief prophets. But Mohammed is the last and the greatest." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 45. The Mohammedan Religion)Allah is impersonal and so is His religion that He has appointed to mankind. The Koran teaches us that, to each people group, God has appointed a religion; a set of ceremonies and acts to be performed in the service and worship of God.
"We have appointed for every nation [people] a holy rite, that they may mention [commemorate] God's Name over such [brute] beasts of the flocks as He has provided them." (Koran 22:35)
"We have appointed for every nation a holy rite [observances] that they shall perform [observe]. Let them not therefore wrangle [dispute] with thee upon the matter, and do thou summon unto thy Lord; surely thou art upon a straight guidance [on the right way]. And if they should dispute [debate] with thee, do thou say, 'God knows very well what you are doing. God shall judge between you on the Day of Resurrection touching that whereon you were at variance.'" (Koran 22:66-68)However, despite man's best efforts, many of the nations had left the religion appointed to them by God and had departed from a true knowledge of God and His requirements upon their lives. To this end, Allah sent His revelation to Muhammad and established, for an Arab people, a new religion that they might be the light of the world and that the rest of the world might see and understand how God truly desires to be served and worshiped.
"Thus We appointed you a midmost nation [central people] that you might be witnesses to the people [mankind], and that the Messenger [apostle] might be a witness to you; and We did not appoint the direction thou wast facing [we appointed the kebla which you formerly hadst], except that [only that] We might know who followed the Messenger [apostle] from him who turned on his heels." (Koran 2:137)This required a change in religion; the departure from some of the old rites and the adoption of some new ones. Previously, God had appointed a kebla, or a direction to face when worshiping God. This was done for no other reason than that God might know who was following His commands and who was not. Now, instead of facing a specific direction, everyone was to face Mecca.
"We have seen thee turning thy face about in the [to every part of] heaven; now We will surely turn thee to a direction [kebla] that shall satisfy [please] thee. Turn thy face towards the Holy Mosque; and wherever you are, turn your faces towards it." (Koran 2:139)There are two things that are of interest here. First is the acknowledgment that all people have received from God their own religion and that Muslims were not to try and debate them of convert them except through the evidence of their own personal obedience to a religion that Muhammad believed was more pure and better guided by God. No where in these suras do you read any hint of a command from God to fight with the unbelievers or to attempt to convert them through conquest. These suras will come later and they stand in apparent contradiction to what Muhammad wrote here in the second sura. Either Islam is a peaceful religion earning converts through the peaceable means of persuasion and the peaceable example of Muslim religion, or it is a warring religion requiring conquest for conversion in the cases where persuasion alone does not serve to convert. We shall have more to say on this score later.
The second point of interest is that, in Muhammad's mind, what is of chief importance in our position with God is our religion and not our relationship. God's dealings with mankind is centered completely around the religion He has given them.
"And Abraham charged his sons with this and Jacob likewise: 'My sons, God has chosen for you the religion; see that you die not save in surrender.'" (Koran 2:126)God has chosen for us a religion and not a relationship with Hmself. However, the scriptures tell us a different story. In the very beginning, God desired to be with His creation. He not only created this world, He also walked among it and had fellowship with the man and woman He had created. In the story of the fall of mankind we read,
"They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden." (Genesis 3:8)We understand that prior to this point, they used to enjoy the presence of God as He would often walk among His creation and fellowship with Adam and Eve. We also know that Abraham was called "the friend of God." (James 2:23) a term of relationship and not religion. And we know that Jesus' greatest desire for His disciples was, "that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:3) God desiring our presence over our religion. Finally, up until the time of Jesus, all mankind had was religion, but Jesus came to bring something different; something that flowed out of a relationship with a personal God and not impersonal obedience to an external religion.
"For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17)Jesus came, not to bring a new religion or to encourage us to better adhere to an old one, but to bring us grace and truth that flows out of a personal relationship with God. It is time to be done with old religion. If we have Jesus, what need do we have for religion? What need have we for Islam? Let us rather be free than to be re-enslaved again to religion.
More to come...