by Abdul Saleeb
Although the religion of Islam is more characterized by its focus on the law, or shari’a, Islam also offers a comprehensive system of theology. Muslims often proudly point out that their doctrinal system is internally consistent, simple to understand, and devoid of the many mysteries surrounding the Christian faith. Traditionally, Islamic theology has been described in terms of the “five pillars” of faith (iman). These five teachings consist of belief in God, the angels, the prophets, their scriptures, and the day of judgment.
The cornerstone of Islam is the unshakable belief in the absolute oneness, sovereignty, and transcendence of God. In a key sura of the Qur’an, people are commanded to “Say: He is God, The One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, Nor is He begotten; And there is none Like unto Him” (sura 112). Based on such passages, Muslims have traditionally talked about God in terms of the ninety-nine names of God. These names are based on Qur’anic adjectives describing the actions of God in history.
However, we must understand that these names are not attributes describing the nature of God’s person or being, but only characteristics of the inscrutable Divine Will which ultimately remains unknown to human beings. So God is the One Who leads astray, as well as the One Who guides. He is the One Who brings damage, as also does Satan. He is described also by terms like the Bringer-down, the Compeller, or Tyrant, the Haughty—all of which, when used of men, have an evil sense. In the unity of the single will, however, these descriptions co-exist with those that relate to mercy, compassion, and glory.
Angels (and Jinns)
A fundamental aspect of the Islamic doctrine of God is the view of God as Creator. In addition to the physical universe, God has created two classes of intelligent spiritual beings consisting of angels and jinns.
Angels are creatures formed of light, who serve and worship God continually, record people’s actions, receive people’s souls when they die, witness for or against them on the day of judgment, guard the gates of hell, and serve the faithful in paradise. The most prominent of angels, the archangel Gabriel (whom most Muslims identify with the Holy Spirit), was the angel through whom God sent down his revelation in the form of the Qur’an to Muhammad.
The other class of spiritual being is the jinn. There has been a great deal of speculation concerning their identity, but Muslims commonly believe that they are powerful, intelligent creatures which fall into two groups of good and evil, with Satan being the head of the evil group which chose to disobey God in the distant past.
Before understanding the role of prophets in Islamic theology, we must briefly touch on the Islamic view of man. God created the first humans, Adam and Eve, sinless and in a perfect state in Paradise. However, deceived by Satan, they freely chose to sin and were thus expelled from Paradise to the earth. According to Islam, this sin was only a single slip on the part of our first parents which was completely forgiven after their repentance. Thus, sin is not an irradicable part of human nature. Human beings are not essentially evil but good. Although humans have no fallen nature, they are intrinsically weak, imperfect and have a constant tendency to be forgetful of God. Therefore, God has continually sent prophets to call people to the straight path of submitting to the One true God and living as obedient servants of God on earth.
According to the Qur’an, God has “sent amongst every people an apostle, (with the command), ‘Serve God, and eschew evil’ ” (sura 16:36). Therefore, every nation has had a prophet and each has preached essentially the same message: There is one God to whom all worship and service are due. Even though the exact number of prophets is not stated in the Qur’an, Muslim tradition puts the number at 124,000. Of the twenty-five prophets mentioned in the Qur’an by name, the majority of them are biblical characters such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elisha, Jonah, Zechariah, John the Baptist and Jesus.
It must be noted that the key to understanding the Muslim view of prophets is the belief that Muhammad was the last and the greatest of all prophets. He was the seal of prophets who brought God’s final and complete revelation to all humankind. According to Islam, all the prophets prior to Muhammad were limited in their mission and their teachings were not universal. Therefore, with the coming of Muhammad, God’s final will is known for all times and for all people.
Although God has sent prophets to all nations, not all prophets have brought with them divine scriptures. Muslims believe that all previous scriptures have either been lost (like the scrolls of Abraham), or those that still remain, like the Torah of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Gospel of Jesus, have been corrupted and tampered with and are no longer trustworthy. Of course, it must be noted that the Muslim charge concerning the corruption of the text of the Bible (tahrif) does not find any basis in the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an gives the scriptures of Jews and Christians such titles as “the Word of God,” “light and guidance,” “a decision for all matters,” and “illumination.”
In light of the above Muslim attitude towards the previous scriptures, the absolute importance of the Qur’an in Islam becomes more evident. The Qur’an is not only the last divinely inspired book (transmitted by way of dictation to Muhammad), but also the only one which has been miraculously preserved incorrupt to this day. It is complete, trustworthy and the fulfillment of all previous revelations. Whatever was true in the previous scriptures has been repeated in the Qur’an and whatever falsehood had entered the previous books was purged by the Qur’an. Therefore, the Qur’an is all that is needed for mankind to gain the true and sufficient knowledge of God.
The Day of Judgment
Even a cursory reading of the Qur’an demonstrates the all-pervasive Qur’anic concern and insistence on a day of judgment at the end of history when all will be held accountable for their beliefs and actions. The Qur’an is filled with dramatic depictions of the cosmic and catastrophic events surrounding the final resurrection and the appearance of all humankind before the judgment seat of God with graphic descriptions of heaven and hell.
One Qur’anic image of the divine judicial process is that of a scale which is used for balancing the individual’s good thoughts, deeds, and desires against his bad ones. “Then those whose balance is heavy— they will attain salvation: But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell they will abide” (sura 23:102–103).
Islamic theology is very emphatic that salvation is gained by means of the right faith and right deeds, such as performing the obligatory acts of reciting the confession of faith, prayer, fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage to Mecca. And despite the fact that God is often called “Most Gracious, Most Merciful” in the Qur’an, a Muslim cannot have any assurance of salvation until the day of judgment. The following comment by a Muslim author summarizes the Islamic position accurately: “The entry [into Islam] constitutes no guarantee of personal justification in the eyes of God … there is nothing the new initiate can do which would assure him or her of salvation … [Islam] denies that a human can attain religious felicity on the basis of faith alone … only the works and deeds constitute justification in God’s eyes … Everyone strives and some more than others … Religious justification is thus the Muslim’s eternal hope, never their complacent certainty, nor for even a fleeing moment.”
It should be obvious by now that Islam challenges the fundamental truths of the Christian faith such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, original sin, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone and the authority of the Bible. Christians must therefore take more seriously their task of communicating and defending the Gospel to the ever-growing world of Islam.