One of the aspects I find fascinating in discussions with Muslims is how the very same line of logic is extolled with reference to Islam, and demeaned with reference to Christianity. In an odd twist, Muslims will completely undermine their own logic used to condemn Christianity in order to prove a point praising Islam.
As an example, consider the Muslim line of argument that Jesus could not have been God in the flesh because He never explicitly claimed to be so. Since Jesus never said the exact words “I am God,” Muslims use this as one of the reasons to believe that Jesus is not God the Son. Typically, you will see this line of argument as one of many in the attempt to deny the deity of Christ. However, I picked one example that is slightly more isolated for the sake of convenience.
“The question: ‘Is Jesus (pbuh) God?’ can be answered by asking a counter question: Did Jesus ever confess to be god? Did he ever say ‘I am God’ or ‘worship me’? And if we read the Bible, we will see that Jesus while he walked this earth, never made such claims.” [i]
Never mind passages such as John 10:33. One typical Christian response is to spend time quoting Biblical passages where Jesus does in fact assert His deity in a variety of ways. [ii] Another excellent avenue of answering this question is to deal with the concept of three different ways in which such a direct statement by Jesus would misrepresent the Trinity, and the ensuing possible heresies that would develop. [iii] Yet as accurate as these rebuttals are, as frequent readers of this blog know, I will be taking a much different tack. In the simple and most basic logical dissection, the Muslim argument is that any man of God would clearly state who he is. Let’s just take this argument at face value, and see where it goes.
In Islam, there is a Messiah-like figure who is coming upon the scene as the hero and deliverer of Islam. This awaited figure is called Al-Mahdi, which in Arabic means “the rightly guided one.” Some Muslims believe this individual is the twelfth imam, who is currently in occultation, waiting to come out of hiding during the last hour. According to Islamic tradition, Al-Mahdi is “an eschatological personage yet to come.” [iv] Islam teaches that in the future, Al-Mahdi will be credited with performing many noble deeds. Two of these are to “restore the faith, and defeat the enemies of Islam.” [v]
This futuristic figure from Islamic tradition is someone whom Muslims believe will have a great deal of impact for Islam as a religion and for Muslims individually. Given his importance within Islam, there are many Hadith describing Al-Mahdi, and many books written to help Muslims recognize him when he comes onto the scene. While studying the individual traits of Al-Mahdi is a fascinating study itself, and one that will be undertaken later in this blog, for now it is more important to focus on what Al-Mahdi will say about himself.
Rather than listening to this blogger’s pontification, read what Muslims themselves say about him. “When they say, ‘You are the Mahdi’ he will deny it…” and “They will say to him, ‘this is your name and this is your father’s name, all the signs are upon you,’ but he will not admit it…” (emphasis mine) [vi]
Yes, one of the ways in which Muslims will be able to recognize Al-Mahdi is that Al-Mahdi will never actually specifically admit to being Al-Mahdi. He will never say “I am Al-Mahdi.” In a twist of irony so thick it’s hard to believe, the proof Muslims use to deny Jesus as the Son of God is the very same one they will use to confirm and herald the awaited defender of their faith, Al-Mahdi.
Is a man of God required to make explicit statements about his identity? It’s a simple question really. If the answer is yes, then Muslims are acknowledging that their own apocalyptic views of their own religion are flawed beyond repair. If the answer is no, then their own argument against Jesus to disprove his divinity must be abandoned. Muslims are welcome to choose whichever answer they want, as long as it is consistently applied in both Jesus and Al-Mahdi.
Unraveling this particular tenet of Muslim apologetics is fascinating, but I must offer an admonition. Using such arguments with Muslims can often result in hard feelings and extract visceral reactions. The gospel is always conveyed through prayer, friendship, and subsequent sharing of the Good News of Christ. This information is provided as a means of educating and equipping Christians to have profitable encounters with Muslims, not arguments to be used in isolation. I would welcome comments from those who have friendships with Muslims strong enough to bear such a perilous conversation.