The more I investigate Islam, the more spiritual reversals come leaping to the forefront. Sometimes these theological inversions are incredibly profound, and teaching me something new about Christ I had not seen before. Sometimes they teach me something about myself.
As a person reads the Bible, it becomes quite evident that as people, we have fallen way short of what God wants from us. Passages such as Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 143:2, and Romans 3:12 leave no doubt as to our status before God. Of course, God’s sanctifying work allows us to receive a new heart, and to become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Yet when we examine ourselves, we have to be honest. Consider what Paul had to say about himself as he wrote to other believers. In one of the earliest epistles, the letter to the church at Corinth, Paul admits that he has some flaws. As an apostle, he garners a certain status, but he seems to feel unworthy of it and places himself at the bottom of the apostle’s ranking (1 Corinthians 15:9). Later, in the letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:8), Paul doesn’t even mention his apostleship, but rather puts himself as the least of all those who call themselves believers in Jesus Christ. Yet Paul doesn’t stop here. In one of the latest books, Paul keeps lowering his self-appraisal, this time acknowledging that he considers himself the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
As time goes by, Paul’s view of himself continues to lessen. While such statements could be misused by taking them out of context, let’s stay focused and figure out where this self-deprecating attitude might come from. Jesus tells a parable that sheds some light on Paul’s statements. In Luke 14, Jesus tells a parable about how to position yourself relative to others.
8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 10 But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.
In case there is any doubt about what this parable means, Jesus interprets it for us as well.
11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The command is clear. Don’t think too much of yourself. Don’t assume a position of honor, but rather, consider yourself the least of those present. For myself, I can testify that I should not try to make myself out to be somebody or something that I am not. While I enjoy writing these articles, I know full well that however God is using me, He is using a flawed and broken human. I rejoice that God can do so in whatever way He sees fit, just as Paul acknowledges in 1 Timothy 1:16.
So what is the Muslim view? As you might expect, it’s the exact opposite. Muslims are to regard themselves as the people most to be honored.
[3.110] You are the best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) men; you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah; and if the followers of the Book had believed it would have been better for them; of them (some) are believers and most of them are transgressors.
Should anyone think I am taking this verse out of context, consider what ibn Kathir says about this verse in his tafsir, “The meaning of the Ayah [verse] is that the Ummah [body of believers] of Muhammad is the most righteous and beneficial nation for mankind.” [i] As for Muhammad himself, “The Ummah of Muhammad achieved this virtue because of its Prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon him, the most regarded of Allah’s creation and the most honored Messenger with Allah.”
What we have again is a completely reversed way of thinking. Paul was humbled at the thought of being any kind of spokesman for God; Muhammad considered himself honored. As Christians, we are to take the place of least honor, recognizing that we are not to exalt ourselves, whereas the Muslims are to consider themselves the “best of the nations.” The attitude is the total antithesis of what Jesus commands.