This is a continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first post here. You can also find 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.Islam is a religion of grades, not the kind you get from tests, but grades as in levels; levels of authority, levels of favor, and levels of valuation before God.
"They are in ranks [varying grades] with God; and God sees the things they do." (Koran 3:157)In Islam, God does not see everyone the same. Some are greater than others and some are positioned higher and lower in both favor and authority. Some He prefers, and some He prefers less. Your position in the ranks of God is determined based upon what you do as well as by what God wills.
"Those who believe, and have emigrated [fled their homes], and have struggled in the way of God with their possessions and their selves are mightier in rank [higher in grade] with God; and those -- they are the triumphant" (Koran 9:20)Those who have emigrated refer, in part, to those who were forced to flee Mecca for Medina with Muhammad. Those who struggle in the way of God refer to those who have fought with Muhammad against the Medians and others who were enemies of Muhammad. They not only fought with Muhammad but they spent their own money and possessions in the fight. These are the ones who are mighty with God; these are the ones who are higher in rank then those who refused to fight.
One may also find themselves in a higher rank with God, and before the believers, by the will and appointment of God.
"It is He who has appointed you viceroys [made you the successors of others] in the earth, and has raised some of you in rank [by various grades] above others, that He may try you in what He has given you [prove you by his gifts]." (Koran 6:165)Here, primarily, he is speaking of the prophets like himself. Muhammad often appears self-serving as he writes God's supposed revelation in the Koran. He repeatedly speaks in a way to enforce his importance and the need for people to believe in him and to obey here. Here He speaks of his higher grade than others as a prophet. Later on we will look at some of the special privileges he affords to himself and other prophets due to their higher grade.
What is striking is the dissimilarity between Islam and Christianity when it comes to rank and grades. Certainly there are some sects of Christianity that have highly developed hierarchies, but it is my belief that such systems are not born out by the Christian scriptures and are not part of the will of God for Christian believers or for His church.
The Christian scriptures clearly teach that God does not see people differently. There are not some He favors more than others and some He places above others in rank. In fact, if He did have a preference it would be for those who are lower in rank naturally than those who are higher. "For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar." (Psalms 138:6) Paul also reminds us that many of the early believers in Christ came from the lowest members of society. Many were poor, unlearned, and slaves. "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-39)
When God looks at people, He does not see men and women, rich and poor, high and lowly, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) When God looks at His creation, He sees just people and He treats them all alike. Peter was a man who was brought up to believe in differing grades of people. There were God's chosen people, the Jews, and then there was the rest, the gentiles. However, Jesus taught him a lesson and a new truth when he came to realize that God regards all people the same. "And Peter opening his mouth said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons." (Acts 10:34 Darby) God does not have favorites, there are not some He loves more than others. God loves all people and He sees all people the same. To God, there is no difference between the most highly exhaled person and the lowliest of the low, the are both just people.
In the Church, God has designed it to the the same, without distinction, classes, grades, and rank. God did not come to establish a hierarchy but rather a brotherhood. Jesus by His own words taught us that, "you are all brothers." (Matthew 23:8) Where there is a hierarchy of authority, it is flat, much flatter than we see in many churches today. When the church leaders met in Jerusalem to discuss the issue of circumcision, they wrote a letter to the whole church that opened, "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren." (Acts 15:23) Here we see only three levels of authority: the apostles who were commissioned by Jesus to build His church, the elders who oversaw the churches, and the people who made up the churches. However, these were levels of authority, not of rank or grade. Within the church there are distinctions, but these are distinctions of function, not of title or position. It is interesting to remember that Paul never referred to himself as the "Apostle Paul" thus referencing his position or title, but as "Paul an Apostle" in reference to his function within the body of Christ. We must stop seeing ourselves as occupying various grades or ranks before God, as Muhammad believed religion to teach. Rather to see ourselves as God does, as people created by Him and equally loved by Him. We are not all trying to clime the ecclesiastical ladder, competing with each other for position and title, but we are all brothers and called to love one another as bothers. Let us do away with all distinctions and once again become the family of God in all its simplicity.