Death Be Upon You

Due to my interest in Islam, I often spend time interacting with Muslims in various venues. Often times, these interactions trigger one of these articles. So it was the recently when the topic of Muhammad’s kindness came up, particularly in response to harsh treatment. To compare this to Jesus’ response, I specifically want to examine Muhammad’s response when confronted with verbal abuse.

Within the Muslim community, many Muslim apologists discuss the merits of Muhammad. One of these is that Muhammad was kind to everyone, regardless of the insults or taunts that were hurled at him. These supporters cite the Qur’an, which orders Muslims in general and Muhammad in particular to ignore such verbal abuse. For example,

[33.48] And be not compliant to the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and leave unregarded their annoying talk, and rely on Allah; and Allah is sufficient as a Protector.

And again the Qur’an says,

[50.39] Therefore be patient of what they say, and sing the praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before the setting.

The Qur’an teaches Muslims to patiently bear up and disregard criticism. Yet this isn’t often the response from Muslims today when Muhammad or Islam itself is disparaged. The reason for this is that Muslims look to the life of Muhammad as the perfect model for Muslim’s present-day actions. (Qur’an 33:21). In order to understand the Muslim reaction to verbal assault, we must examine Muhammad’s comebacks when verbally harangued

There are some cases where Muhammad was confronted with severe opposition, and indeed offers a gracious and kind response. However, there are also cases where his response is equally harsh, or even more so. For example, in a previous article, I discussed Muhammad’s response to a man named Abu Lahab. When Abu Lahab excoriated Muhammad for wasting his time, the response was the revelation of an entire surah of the Qur’an (Surah 111) dedicated to cursing Abu Lahab as well as his wife. Another example of how Muhammad dealt with verbal abuse is narrated by one of Muhammad’s wives, Aisha

The Jews used to greet the Prophet by saying, “As-Samu ‘Alaika (i.e., death be upon you), so I understood what they said, and I said to them, “As-Samu ‘alaikum wal-la’na (i.e. Death and Allah’s Curse be upon you).” The Prophet said, “Be gentle and calm, O ‘Aisha, as Allah likes gentleness in all affairs.” I said, “O Allah’s Prophet! Didn’t you hear what they said?” He said, “Didn’t you hear me answering them back by saying, ‘Alaikum (i.e., the same be upon you)?” [i]

In other words, when greeted with a curse, Muhammad returned it verbatim. This kind of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” retaliation often feels good in the flesh, but God teaches us something very different in the Bible. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 we are told to never “return evil for evil.” These words are echoed in other verses such as Romans 12:17. But God’s teaching goes much further than this. Not returning insult for insult isn’t the end of the story; we are supposed to return a blessing instead! Form 1 Peter 3:9,

9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Jesus Himself exemplified this teaching, (1 Peter 2:23) and as Christians this is to be our guiding principle (Hebrews 12:3). Romans 12:21 sums it up,

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The difference between Christian and Islamic doctrine couldn’t be clearer. The example for Muslims is to return an insult for an insult. In Christianity, when we are insulted, we are to return a blessing instead.

When I started this article, I noted that this article came out of a recent discussion I had with several Muslims. I asked the men to explain to me how Muhammad’s actions of returning a curse in the Hadith cited above exemplified his kindness and goodness. After several minutes, the consensus was that they didn’t know, but because it was Muhammad who did it, it must be the kind and appropriate thing to do.

Not once have I ever been embarrassed by Jesus’ actions, or forced to write off something He did as unexplainable. This, in itself, is another stark difference between the actions of Jesus and Muhammad.


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Grace, Faith, and Works

The more I learn about Islam and Christianity, the more it becomes apparent that the nature of the two religions is completely antithetical. However, exposing this is often painfully arduous, because the issues are extremely complex and require some serious meditation and dissection of thorny theological issues. Because of this, many well-intentioned and intelligent people are fooled into citing similarities in the two religions where disagreement and divergence exists instead.

Perhaps nothing reveals these complex inversions better than examining the issue of salvation as it relates to grace, faith, and works. If you ask a Christian about how to earn salvation, you will be told that such a thing is impossible. Salvation cannot be earned, but rather comes by God’s grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet Christians also maintain that a person must have faith and repent of their sins and ask for forgiveness (Acts 17:30-31; Acts 2:38). This faith is demonstrated via works (James 2:20; Ephesians 2:10). While some Christians might take issue with this combination rather than faith alone, the idea of good works flowing out of a true faith is one that has Biblical support (James 2:14: James 2:22). So the question arises of how grace, faith, and works interplay. Would the acts of believing in Jesus and repentance of sins in themselves be “works”? Would this mean that a person must have faith and works to be saved, and thus not grace alone? How do these operate in concert? Doesn’t grace “by definition” exclude works of any kind? (Romans 11:6) Hold these thoughts for a moment while the Islamic position is analyzed and this can all be sorted out.

In Islam, the path to salvation is described using strikingly similar language. Since Allah is viewed as sovereign, Muslims will say that salvation is ultimately at his discretion. Muslims will say that it’s only by the grace of Allah that a Muslim can be saved, and not by faith or works. (Many Muslims erroneously interchange the concepts of “grace” and “mercy”, but that’s an article for a later date.) As an example of the predominance of Allah’s grace, Muhammad said “There is none whose deeds alone would entitle him to get into Paradise”. [i] Yet Muslims are also required to believe that Allah is one, and there are many commands within Islam for Muslims to follow. This faith and its corresponding actions are also seen as critical within Islam. The Qur’an mimics the Christian view of requiring faith in order to obtain salvation. One of many such verses of the Qur’an is as follows,

[5.9] Allah has promised to those who believe and do good deeds (that) they shall have forgiveness and a mighty reward.

In these passages, both faith and good works are mentioned. Muslims have a common understanding regarding the interaction of grace, faith, and works. Salvation within Islam comes by grace, yet faith and works play a key role as well. It is outlined by one Muslim author as follows, “Islam teaches that salvation is attained by God’s Grace, and that God bestows His Grace upon those who have both inner belief and good works.” [emphasis in the original] [ii]

This all sounds so akin to Christian doctrine. Surely Christianity and Islam are two sides of the same coin in this case. Yet there is something going on here that is so easily missed. Look very closely not at the words being used, but in what order they are being used.

In Islam, while the ultimate decision is left to Allah, grace is given to those who most merit that grace. Perhaps to put it more bluntly, one Muslim described Allah this way, “He is the All-Merciful, He is Mercy. He is compassionate, All-Forgiving, but only for those who deserve it.” [iii] In contrast, God is described as the one who first gives us the grace so that we might even be able to believe and be obedient in the first place. In John 6:44, Jesus tells us “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Grace within Islam is something very different than what it is within Christianity. In Islam, grace is something Allah gives you AFTER you muster up your own faith and works. While it is Allah alone who grants salvation, this occurs as a consequence of believing in Allah and doing good works as defined within Islam. However, in Christianity, grace comes first, before either faith or works. Neither the ability to confess Jesus as Lord or to do anything pleasing to God can happen unless God first grants the grace to do so (Matthew 16:16-17; Romans 8:7). This Bible consistently teaches salvation by grace alone, with faith and works flowing out as an after-effect.

To put it another way, in Islam, faith and works lead to Allah’s grace. In Christianity, it is God’s grace that leads to faith and works (Romans 2:4). Complete opposites.

[i] Sahih Muslim, Book #039, #6761



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Raising the Dead

This blog typically contrasts theological aspects of Christianity and Islam. It delves into the tenets of the two religions in intricate detail. However, sometimes, there are more philosophical questions to be answered. Rather than asking what the tenets are, sometimes the question must be asked why they exist. Why does the Bible say such and such? Why does the Qur’an say, or not say, something? To be specific, let’s consider how Muhammad and Jesus interacted with those who had died.

In Islam, there is little doubt about how Muhammad interacted with those who had died. Muhammad said that he was “a plain warner,” and that he was to convey Allah’s message to those living around him. Therefore, once someone died, Muhammad had no ability to interact with them anymore. The Qur’an makes it clear that Muhammad is not able to communicate with those who are no longer living. There are two separate ayat which are on point.

[35.22] Neither are the living and the dead alike. Surely Allah makes whom He pleases hear, and you cannot make those hear who are in the graves.

Again the Qur’an says regarding Muhammad,

[27.80] Surely you do not make the dead to hear, and you do not make the deaf to hear the call when they go back retreating.

Islamic commentaries, or tafsir, backup the straightforward meaning of these verses of the Qur’an. This shouldn’t be surprising. Once a person dies, it is no longer possible, humanly speaking, to engage with the deceased in any way.

Yet within the pages that recount the life of Jesus, there is an interesting account of one of Jesus’ friends, Lazarus, who died (John 11:14). The sisters of Lazarus had sent for Jesus while he was still sick in the hope that Jesus would cure him (John 11:3). But rather than directly go to him, Jesus delayed for two days before departing (John 11:6). By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the funeral and its associated activities were well underway (John 11:31) and Lazarus had been dead for four days (John 11:39).

However, Jesus had something else in mind. Rather than coming and curing the sickness, Jesus was interested in bolstering the disciples’ belief (John 11:15). Coming to the tomb, Jesus engaged in public prayer, not for the sake of necessity, but for the purpose of allowing those nearby to hear and better understand what was happening (John 11:42). At this point, Jesus calls for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and he does (John 11:43-44).

So we see one of the differences between Jesus and Muhammad. Jesus raised the dead, and Muhammad did not. In itself, this observation is monumental enough. It isn’t too hard to see this difference and contemplate its significance. And so perhaps this article would end right here. Yet there is something else happening here that needs to be pointed out. The Qur’an also agrees that Jesus raised the dead! In chapter 5, verse 110, the Qur’an quotes Allah as asking Jesus to remember “when you brought forth the dead by My permission”. While the Bible cites other instances where men of God were able to bring back those who had recently died (Acts 9:40; Acts 20:10), the Qur’an has no other such records. According to the Qur’an, only Jesus is mentioned as being able to raise the dead.

The Muslim response is that Jesus only performed miracles as a man, and thus only by the permission of Allah. One Muslim author explains this as follows: “The Quran (3:49) clearly states that his miracles were purely granted by Allah and in no way it could be inferred that he had Godly powers, as believed by Christians.”[i] The issue of whether raising the dead proves Jesus was God in the flesh has been debated on various internet sites. While it’s an important question, I am not interested in repeating those endeavors at this time.

But here is the question that remains for Christians and Muslims. Why? Even If one assumes the Islamic explanation that Jesus was only a prophet and thus only allowed this ability as a prophet, the question remains. Why was Jesus allowed this power to raise the dead while Muhammad was not? It’s an inquiry that requires a cogent and compelling response.

Of course, as Christians, this question stands as well. However, as Christians, we have a clear and straightforward answer (John 11:25). But from the Islamic perspective, why is there this difference between these two religious figures that Islam deems as prophets. Why was one prophet granted such amazing power to raise the dead, and one not? Why was Jesus permitted the right to do this miracle while Muhammad was not? Like a trail of breadcrumbs, the clues are there for those who want to follow them.

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