Thursday, February 11, 2016

Islam - A religion of works - Deeds of Righteousness

This is a continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first post here and the previous post here. This is also part of a larger series called "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
The Koran thus defines those who will be granted entrance into Paradise at the end of the age.
"But those that believe, and do deeds of righteousness [things that are right], them We shall admit to [bring into] gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein dwelling for ever and ever" (Koran 4:121)
In Islam, faith alone is insufficient to secure for oneself a beneficial outcome at the end of ones life. It is not enough to believe in God and His message, but you must do the requisite works of righteousness to earn your spot in paradise.
"Those who believe and do deeds of righteousness the things that are right], and perform the prayer, and pay the alms [the legal imposts] - - their wage [reward] awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow [grief]." (Koran 2:277)
"But those of them that are firmly rooted in knowledge, and the believers believing inwhat has been sent down to thee, and what was sent down before thee, that perform [observe] the prayer and pay the alms [of obligation], and those who believe in God and the Last Day -- them We shall surely give a mighty wage [reward]." (Koran 4:160)
Notice that the blessings the believer enjoys in the life to come are call the wages (rewards by Rodwell) earned by the believers through the deeds of righteousness they performed while alive. For a Muslim, Paradise is not granted, but is earned through works. Paradise is not a gift given to us by God but rather a payment for our performance while here on the Earth; it is an obligation from God not a favor of grace.

So, what are the deeds of righteousness that the Koran requires us to perform if we are to hope to earn Paradise? We have seen some already, but they start with faith.
"O believers, obey God, and obey the Messenger [apostle] and those in [invested with] authority among you. If you should quarrel on anything, refer it to God and the Messenger [apostle], if you believe in God and the Last Day; that is better, and fairer [way of settlement] in the issue." (Koran 4:62 )
"O believers, believe in God and His Messenger [Apostle] and the Book He has sent down on His Messenger [Apostle] and the Book which He sent down before. Whoso disbelieves in God and His angels and His Books, and His Messengers [Apostles], and the Last Day, has surely gone astray into far error." (Koran 4:135)
In addition to faith in God, faith in other spiritual realities is also required, such as faith in angels and the last day.
"It is not piety, that you turn your faces to the East and to the West. True piety is this: tobelieve in God, and the Last Day, the angels, the Book [Scriptures], and the Prophets, to give of one's substance, however cherished, to kinsmen, and orphans, the needy, the traveller, beggars, and to ransom the slave, to perform the prayer, to pay the [legal] alms." (Koran 2:172)
It is interesting to note that the Koran, along with the Jewish and Christian scriptures, make little distinction between believing and obeying. One cannot, and does not, believe if one does not also obey. We see this in the letter to the Hebrews when the writer writes, "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief... Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience." (Hebrews 3:18-19, 4:6) Here disobedience is linked to unbelief just as obedience is to faith.

In Islam, it is not enough to believe in God, one must also believe in all his messengers, including Muhammad, and one must believe and obey all that has been sent down, including the Koran. You may believe in God but if you don't believe in Muhammad and the Koran, you cannot be saved. This is different from the Christian faith where the most important thing is to believe in God. The scriptures and the messengers are all sent for one purpose, to bring us to faith in God. This is why Jesus chastised the religious elite in His day when He said, "You diligently study  the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39-40 NIV)

On top of faith, there are the prayers.
"Perform the prayer at the sinking of the sun [sunset] to the darkening of the night and the recital of dawn [daybreak reading]; surely the recital of dawn [daybreak reading] is [has a] witnessed. And as for the night, keep vigil a part of it, as a work of supererogation for thee; it may be that thy Lord will raise thee up to a laudable [glorious] station." (Koran 17:80-81)
The fixed times of prayer are clearly linked to the hope of a good resurrection. Prayer is essential to all religions, but was never made a condition of salvation for either the Jews or the Christians. Prayer maintains our communion with God and keeps our spirits attentive to what is going on around us. This is why Jesus taught us to, "Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41) Prayer is useful and laudatory, but its benefits are for this life not the life to come.

On top of the prayers the is also the giving of alms and the paying of the impost.
"Perform [observe] the prayer, and pay the [stated] alms, and obey the Messenger [Apostle]" (Koran 24:55)
"Those are the signs of the Wise Book for a guidance and a mercy to the good-doers [righteous] who perform the prayer, and pay the alms [impost], and have sure faith in the Hereafter [believe firmly in the life to come]." (Koran 31:1-3)
There is a difference between the alms and the impost. J.M. Rodwell writes, "to pay the impost, [was] required by Muhammad of his followers as a religious duty, and different from the alms." (The Koran, footnote 31.3) One was out of charity and compassion, the other out of religious duty. It is interesting to note that in the Christian scriptures, while many freely gave to those in needs, there is no requirement to give to the poor. Even the law of the tithe, as a religious requirement, is completely missing in the teaching of the apostles and the history of the early Christian church.

To the imposts, there was also the pilgrimages and ritual fasting.
"Those who repent [turn to God], those who serve, those who pray [praise], those who journey [fast], those who bow, those who prostrate themselves, those who bid to honour and forbid dishonour, those who keep God's hounds [bounds] -- and give thou good tidings to the believers." (Koran 9:113)
The religion of Christ was not a religion of ceremony, including ritual fasts and the necessity of pilgrimages to sacred or holy places. When a Samaritan woman asked Jesus where was the proper place to worship, Jesus said, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father... But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:21-24) While the early church did at times come together for fasting, it was a voluntary fast and not one instituted by Christ as a religious obligation.

Finally, along with all the other things required, there is the requirement to expend what you have, your wealth and yourselves, in the service of God. This includes in the battle and in warfare.
"O believers, shall I direct you to a commerce [merchandise] that shall deliver you from a painful chastisement [sore torment]? You shall believe in God and His Messenger [apostle], and struggle [do valiantly] in the way [cause] of God with your possessions and your selves. That is better [best] for you, did you but know." (Koran 61:10-11)"Those who believe in God and the Last Day [will] ask not leave of thee, that they may struggle with their possessions and their selves; and God knows the godfearing." (Koran 9:44)
Such a requirement to be faithful in war, as directed by the prophet, is wholly foreign to the teaching of Jesus, His apostles, and the early church. The idea of a holy war, and that one is obligated to expend his wealth and possessions in its execution, is completely absent from the Christian scriptures. In fact, when Jesus' disciples rose up to try and prevent Him from being arrested and crucified, Jesus rebuked them and said, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52) There is no call to arms in the Christian faith, only a call to love.

More to come...
David Robison

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