I recently invited everyone to a read along in Let’s Read About the Qur’an Together! The plan is to read What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an by James R. White together.
Feel free to grab a copy of the book and join in at anytime!
So far, we’ve covered the following:
- First Discussion: What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an
- Chapter 1a: What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an
Today, guest blogger Ken Temple leads the discussion through chapter 1b covering pages 36-49. Ken is very knowledgeable about Islam – much more than I (Mark) am. He is a husband and father of 3; been a Christian since 1977 (16 at the time), an ordained Southern Baptist minister, and Evangelical missionary. Please see the footnote for more details about Ken’s background.1
A big thanks to Ken for this week’s article.
It should not have to be said, but I need to just remind any Muslim who reads this that I have no intention of being rude or insulting; and that any criticism is based on my sincere Christian beliefs that the Bible is true, and the Qur’an is therefore, not an inspired book of revelation. Some of the other articles I link to at Answering Islam will probably be viewed as very negative, but they are some of the ones that I am familiar with that gives greater documentation from the actual Islamic sources. I welcome reasonable criticism and not any ad hominem dismissal of “oh, that was written by so and so, and so we dismiss it”, etc. That is the wrong approach and not good Da’wa (Islamic propagation, which means “invitation”) method, according to Surah 29:46.
Basically, there are five headings or subjects in this section:
- Muhammad’s wives
- Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr
- The story of Zaynab bint Jash (usually it is transliterated as “Jahsh”)
- The Conquest of Mecca (and the Treaty of Hudaybiyyeh)
- Muhammad ‘ Death
To even comment on most of these events is to enter into areas where most western journalists fear to tread. Dr. White did a good job of stating the beliefs about these issues from a Muslim perspective, but understandably notes that some of these examples from Muhammad’s life are troubling, especially his marriage to Zaynab Bint Jahsh, which happened after Zayd, Muhammad’s adopted son, felt the pressure to divorce her in order to free her to be able to marry the prophet of Islam.
Dr. White notes, “Though the Qur’an had limited legal wives to four (Surah 4:3), it was not long before a new revelation, allowed him, as the prophet, to exceed this number.” (p. 36) Indeed, in the Qu’ran, Surah 33:50, Muhammad gets special revelation for himself to marry more than four women – “a privilege for you only, not the (rest of )the believers.”
Here is more of the verse of Surah 33:50 -
“O Prophet (Muhammad)! Verily, We have made lawful to you your wives, to whom you have paid their Mahr (bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage), and those (captives or slaves) whom your right hand possesses — whom God has given to you, and the daughters of your ‘Amm (paternal uncles) and the daughters of your ‘Ammah (paternal aunts) and the daughters of your Khâl (maternal uncles) and the daughters of your Khâlah (maternal aunts) who migrated (from Makkah) with you, and a believing woman if she offers herself to the Prophet, and the Prophet wishes to marry her; a privilege for you only, not for the (rest of) the believers.” . . .
Dr. White does not mention this, but another troubling issue is the part about “those captives or slaves whom your right hand possesses”. This also does not seem to be a good model for morality for anyone today.
Muhammad’s first wife was Khadija, and he stayed monogamous until her death. After her death, Muhammad had, according to different Islamic sources, 9 or 11 wives at one time. Some others say he had up to 14 wives. For detailed information, see wives at Answering Islam.
Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha
As far as Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, who, according to Islamic sources, the Hadith (both Sahih Al Bukhari and Sahih Muslim mention this) and the History of Al Tabari, she was 9 years old when they consummated their marriage. Dr. White does a good job of showing that although this is really shocking for modern westerners, it is not communicated as anything embarrassing in the Hadith narratives or in Al Tabari’s History (Tarikh). All women in previous centuries married younger than they do today, even in the west. But most people today would say, “Ok, ages 13-16 in the old days, but not 9!!” The problem is that in some Islamic countries, even today, it is permissible for men to marry girls at 9 years old because of this Sunna (custom), the example of the prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an calls Muhammad the best example for mankind (Surah 33:21), and so Muslims look to the Qur’an and Sunna and Hadith to follow his example.
Although some Christian apologists like to emphasis this issue of Aisha and her age, calling into question Muhammad’s example, I think Dr. White is wise to not make this issue a focus of his apologetic approach. Emphasizing it and dwelling on it just makes Muslims angry and emotional, and hinders them from listening to us; and so, we should rather want to emphasize the doctrinal areas that we need to discuss with Muslims in order to witness the gospel of Jesus Christ to them; issues like the Deity of Christ, sin, how a person can be saved, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the reliability of the Scriptures.
Zaynab Bint Jahsh
More troubling than Aisha’s age is what happened with Zaynab Bint Jahsh.2 Dr. White provides the relevant passages from the Qur’an, Surah 33, and Al Tabari’s History (Tarikh) and the Hadith about this.
White asserts, “There is no other account in the Qur’an that, to me as a Christian reader of the Qur’an, the hadith, and the tafsir literature, is more indicative of the fundamental problem with Muhammad’s claimed prophet hood than that of his relationship with Zaynab bint Jash.” (p. 40)
Muhammad eventually married Zaynab, but she was already the wife of his adopted son, Zayd!
“Up to that time, the Arab tribes, like the Jews, Romans, and so many others, had practiced – and honored – the concept of adoption. For a man to marry the divorced wife of his adopted son was a fundamental violation of morality and custom, tantamount to incest.” (White, ibid, p. 40)
It seems obvious that Zaynab’s beauty struck Muhammad when he saw her; but she was already the wife of his adopted son, Zayd. Eventually, Zayd felt the pressure to divorce his wife, thus freeing Muhammad to marry her, except for one thing, as White cites Martin Lings : “This did not, however, make Zaynab eligible as a wife for the Prophet, for although the Koran had only specified that men were forbidden to marry the wives of sons sprung from their loins, it was a strong social principle not to make a distinction between sons by birth and son by adoption.” (Page 43) With a new revelation giving Muhammad permission to marry Zaynab and getting more than 4 wives, it seems like to reasonable readers a very subjective and selfish thing for him to do and claim a sudden revelation from God Himself. Lings reports the prophet of Islam saying, “Of all things licit the most hateful unto God is divorce.” (page 43)
“Is this not a clear example of the problem with the orthodox view of the Qur’an’s nature?”, James White understandably asks. (page 45) White continues, “Muhammad suddenly goes into some kind of faint and when he recovers, announces that adoption is undone and Zaynab is his wife – this was inscribed in eternity past upon a tablet in Arabic?” (page 45)
But Muhammad conveniently gets a new revelation letting him know that it ok to marry her; because Zayd is no longer his adopted son. Aisha, showing her feisty personality, and probably jealousy, is reported in a Hadith to say, “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.” (page 45, see footnote 18 – Sahih Al Bukhari 6:311)
White writes, “In distancing himself from his adopted son, . . . the culture-enriching, humanity-raising, love-engendering institution of adoption was mortally wounded in Islamic society.” (p. 44) This is negative enough, but then he points out that the basis of the damage done to such a positive thing as adopting children being the Qur’an itself; causes us to question if this book is really from God. – “And upon what authority? That of the Qur’an.” (ibid, p. 44)
I will never forget, back around 1997, listening to an Iranian man tell of when he first read this story in the Qur’an and the sources when he was 14 years old, and how disappointed he was in Muhammad and that he started to cry, because he recognized that this was unjust and wrong and showed bad character on Muhammad’s part. This was the first step in causing that Iranian man to question Islam, and then eventually become a Christian.
The Conquest of Mecca
One of the important events before the conquest of Mecca was the Treaty of Hudaybiyyeh in 628 AD. It was to be a ten year treaty with the pagan Meccans, to allow the Muslims to go on Hajj (pilgrimage) at the Ka’aba, but it was broken only after 2 years. Muslims claim that the pagan Quraish tribe broke the treaty first, but there seems to be credible evidence that Muhammad broke it first. See Muhammad and the Treaty of Hudaybiyyeh for more information.
Dr. White does not spend much time on the Treaty of Hudaybiyyeh, but it seems to me a good idea to point out a few things about this that actually do relate to modern times. Because the treaty was broken (no matter who really broke it first), and because this is part of the Sunna, the actions of the prophet Muhammad, the late Yasser Arafat, the infamous leader of the PLO in the 1960s to 2004; used this incident several times to tell other Muslims why it was ok for him to accept the peace treaty Oslo accords with Israel. When Arafat would say, to the effect, according to news reports, “don’t worry, this is like our prophet did with the treaty of Hudaybiyyeh”, it was a signal to Muslims who know the story that this is a temporary treaty and will ultimately be a victory for the Muslims. In fact the historical event is in Surah 48, which is entitled, “Victory”, (Arabic: Fatah – فتح ), which is also the name of Yasser Arafat’s group that he lead for years in fighting against Israel. You can google the issues of the treaty of Hudaybiyyeh and Yasser Arafat and see the various reports on those issues. After the Treaty of Hudaybiyyeh was broken, Muhammad and the Muslims easily conquered Mecca in 630 AD.
The Death of Muhammad
Muhammad died in 632 AD, and White mentions that some Muslim traditions seem to indicate that his death was at least partially from the poisoned meat that a Jewish lady gave to Muhammad earlier. See The Death of Muhammad where the author cites Hadith, Sira literature, and other Islamic sources that do seem to indicate that it was this poisoned meat that eventually caused him to die. In these sources, Muhammad complains of the pains from the effects of the poison.
But tradition says he was 63 when he died, and that is a good old age for someone in those days, considering the conditions of life back then and all the battles and military context of Muhammad’s life. Muhammad was buried in Medina, the second holiest city in Islam. There is also an empty space there, according to other Islamic traditions, for Jesus after he returns and supposedly kills all the pigs and breaks all the crosses in the world, and Muslim say he will get married, and have children, and eventually dies a normal death, since, according to Islam, he was rescued from the crucifixion and death by Allah taking Him to heaven, similar, as is claimed by Muslims, to Enoch or Elijah in the Bible. (see page 109 -110 of James White’s book, in the chapter on “Jesus in the Qur’an” (chapter 5) and footnote 4 for the Hadith reference.)
This concludes our review of chapter 1, which gives the basic events and context of Muhammad’s life in which the Qur’an was revealed. These are important things to know in order to understand Islam and the Qur’an.
- My theology is conservative and “Reformed” or “Calvinistic”, like Mark and Dr. White. Ken started reaching out to Muslims in 1983, in the USA, in friendship, discussion, informal debate, and evangelism. I was amazed at first that most Muslims would invite us into their homes for hot tea, or coffee, fruit, roasted pumpkin seeds and pistachios, when we would knock on doors in evangelism. That was probably 90 % of the encounters with Muslims was with some kind of hospitality. We Christians need to sincerely appreciate that, and other good things from Islamic cultures, like their contributions to architecture, medicine, science, and preserving Greek texts of philosophy in the past. Then, 50 % of more of those encounters turned into 1 or 2 hours of discussion and the Muslims would usually invited us to stay for dinner and continue our discussions over the Bible and the gospel! It was great fun! Here is a statement we heard over and over, from many kinds of Muslims: “I have lived in your country for 10 or 15 years, etc. and you are the first American who has come to our door and wish us peace!” I can honestly say that I love Muslims and strive to be respectful and I appreciate many things about them.
Though I read the Qur’an through one time in 1986, I did not know much about the Hadith (the written traditions of Muhammad), as the book sets of the 9 volume Sahih Al Bukhari and Sahih Muslim were expensive to me, and seemingly hard to even know who to contact for purchasing them back then. This was before the internet, and we were taught to get straight into Jesus and the gospel and the New Testament text, and not focus on Jihad and the Islamic wars of conquests or Muhammad’s wives and other troubling aspects of Islam.
We learned by being with Muslims and spending a lot of time with them and having them into our home and visiting them in their homes. Muslims are hospitable people, family oriented, have really tasty food, passionate, and love to discuss religion and politics! Muslims are fun to witness to and Evangelical Christians should show love to Muslims by reaching out and should not be afraid of them. Muslims are real people, fellow human beings, created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28); and we should want to reach out to them and share Christ and the gospel with them.
It was not really until after 9-11-2001 that I felt the need to learn more deeply about the issues surrounding Jihad (struggle, striving, utmost effort), or Qatal = “fighting” (the word used in Surah 9:5; 9:29 and 8:39) and Harb = war); and the Hadith and Islamic history, and the other Islamic sources like the Sira (biography of Muhammad), the Sunna, the Tarikh (history), the Tafsirs (commentaries), and Fiq (Islamic jurisprudence). I am still learning. Dr. White has way long surpassed me in his reading and studying these Islamic sources, since the time he started studying Islam.
When I have time, I sometimes blog with James Swan at Beggars All and at my own blog at Apologetics and Agape. The name of my own blog is “Apologetics” and “Agape” (Love) and communicates what I feel is our Christian duty to stand for the truth of the Bible and the gospel, but to love people as people and reach out to them, especially Muslims. Along with 1 Peter 3:15, Jude 3 in defending the faith in apologetics, Ephesians 4:16 also teaches us, that we are to “speak the truth the truth in love”. ↩
- I am writing her last name in the way I learned it – Jahsh, rather than Jash, as in Dr. White’s book. ↩