Interfaith Dialogue Reflection – Part I

Last week I had the opportunity to represent Christianity in an interfaith dialogue with a Muslim (Imtiaz Ahmed) and an atheist (Doug Thomas). The event took place at Ryerson in Toronto. When asked to do this event, I was told it was an opportunity for each position to give their views on God. I knew it would likely be a heavily Muslim audience (which it was), so I decided to focus my efforts on presenting the Gospel in a way that the Muslims in the audience would hopefully be able to appreciate (I’m reminded of 1 Cor 9:19-23, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”). Realistically, if I had been given this opportunity by an atheist group, rather than a Muslim one, my talk would have been radically different. There were a few points from the night that I found interesting, and I thought I would share some of my reflections here. Below are some of my points in relation to what Imtiaz Ahmed said.

If you aren’t aware of what the Quran says, there’s a few interesting things I should bring up first. Firstly, the Quran treats Jesus as a prophet, but then denies everything about Jesus’ entire purpose. Muslims take pride in acknowledging that the Quran says Jesus was a prophet, born of a virgin, did miracles, and even that He’s coming back. This then makes it appear like they believe the same things we do. However, the Quran then denies that Jesus died (He was just taken away by Allah), they deny that He is God (the doctrine of the Trinity is seen as blasphemy), and they deny forgiveness by faith and grace alone (they believe if you do enough good, you will “hopefully” go to heaven). In other words, everything that actually matters in Christianity is false on Islam. What they will say is that the Old and New Testaments have become corrupt over time, so they aren’t trustworthy accounts, and the Quran is bringing back the true message of Allah.

In addition to those points about Jesus, the Quran says that the Old Testament and the Injil (which means something like Gospel, or New Testament) are words from Allah, and that all good Muslims should follow them (the Quran even goes so far as to say you should ask your Christian and Jewish friends for help in understanding the Old and New Testaments). Furthermore, the Quran says that the word of Allah cannot be changed or altered. If you put all these points together, you get a really interesting argument, mainly, that the Muslim should be a Christian, even though the Quran denies Christian doctrine. This is because the Quran denies that words from Allah can be changed, and that the New and Old Testaments are included in this. If they can’t be changed, then the New Testament is exactly the same as what was originally written (which textual criticism proves as well). If the New Testament is preserved and true, then the person who actually follows the Quran should read the New Testament, and follow it; in other words, become a Christian.

I brought up some of these points in the dialogue that night, and I believe that’s where the audience and Ahmed (the Muslim speaker) understood me to be criticizing the Quran. One of the questions asked of Ahmed was how he felt about the Christian insulting the Quran. His response was basically to say that the Bible is flimsy, and he made it seem as though Paul is horribly unreliable, and that the writings of John are also unreliable. He then said that the term “Injil” can apply to different things, and he seemed to be making an argument that the Injil Muslims should follow is not the New Testament writings (although I could be wrong, it was difficult for us to formulate robust arguments given our responses had to be cut very short).

To this, I pointed out, once again, that the Quran speaks of the Injil as being an uncorrupted word from Allah, and that the New Testament is, and always has been, considered the inspired Word of God for the message of Jesus. I should mention that, during Muhammad’s time, the New Testament was fully formed, and was the Christian holy book. If the Quran uses the term “Injil”, it can only be referring to the New Testament writings, or at the very least, “part” of the New Testament writings. If a Muslim criticizes the Gospel of John, they are criticizing something that the Quran approves of, and says is incorruptible.

In case you’re interested (or need a reference) in what the Quran says about this, I’ve included some of the passages below.

Surah 57:27 = “We sent after them Jesus the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel.”

Surah 5:48 = “Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel.” Christians should read and obey the Gospel

Surah 3:3 = “It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong).” Injil (Gospel) is the word of Allah.

Surah 6:34 = “…there is none that can alter the words (and decrees) of Allah…”

Surah 6:115 = “None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all.”

Surah 18:27 = “And recite (and teach) what has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord: none can change His Words, and none will you find as a refuge other than Him.” No one can change the word of Allah.

Surah 10:94 = “If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise of those in doubt.” Ask Christians who have been reading the Gospel before you if you have doubts.

To read Part II (my reflections on the Atheist’s talk), click  Here.

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