"Sister, who is your Lord and Savior-do you not fear the hellfire?!" A fat man in a blue suit charged with spittle on his chin as he waved his Bible enthusiastically outside the West Florida Regional Public Library.
"You're gonna be in Heaven, right?" I asked, my practiced reply in mind. And upon his immediate affirmative came my cheeky retort, "Well then, Hell doesn't sound so bad to me."
Growing up in the "Bible-belt" provided lots of opportunity for self-proclaimed atheists and agnostics (my friends and I) to spar with so-called "bible-beaters" like this man. We had great disdain for organized religion and its members; people who willingly submitted to theology and took the roles of brainless sheep. They accepted anything a preacher said as fact with no more substantial evidence than their own faith and no required thought.
My cohorts and I (to the best of my knowledge) had no more understanding of the "f" word than we had of the purple/green gloop served on Wednesdays in our school cafeteria. But through all our joking, sarcastic remarks, and even our disdain, I had a deep dark secret: I wanted to believe in God and my lack of faith scared me to death.
I sat in church every Sunday, listening and waiting for Jesus (PBUH) to "enter my heart" (astaghfirallah). I wanted the understanding and the blind faith that I saw in the people around me. But it never came. When I read the Bible, I felt sickness inside. It held no more truth than an interesting novel. I could not pray in the name of Jesus (PBUH) for Jesus (PBUH) was a man. He ate as a man, spoke as a man, slept as a man and he accomplished miracles only in the name of God. I wanted to pray in the name of God. Christians seemed to worship a God who was no more than a man, no more superior than a king.
Soon, all my hope once again became disdain. As I looked at mankind, this disdain took the form of despair. I disparaged our very existence and a hideous kind of cynicism captured my sick heart.
People are utterly selfish-without honor. We are "civilized" dogs. Snapping and pissing and accomplishing nothing except perhaps to produce more of ourselves. We are faithless beings without any true loyalty and hypocrites in every right. We deserve nothing which we own, and yet we truly own nothing.
Shakespeare said it best when he called us clumsy untrained actors flailing around on the stage of life. I didn't know what came after death, but whatever horror it could be-it was nothing a human didn't deserve.
The fat man's eyes widened and he pointed a crooked finger at me as he said, "Sister, HELL is no joke! Jesus is-" Something snapped deep inside me and I felt hysteria rise in my throat as-ignoring all on-lookers and passer-bys-I screamed, "WHO IS JESUS?!?"
At this point the man got a knowing (okay, condescending) look on his face as he launched into the all too familiar "vapor, solid, liquid" analogy.
I immediately interrupted him, beyond myself with ire, "Do NOT tell me that Jesus (a human!) is to God as ice is to water vapor!" I stood up and spread my arms apart in appeal, "we are creations of God and Jesus was like US! We lay no claim to perfection except our own knowledge of its existence. Look around you! Look inside you! Look at your own ugliness! Ask yourself how God can be anything like you-How can you be anything like GOD!!!?"
Tears were now streaming down my face and I was shaking as four or five people stared in shocked silence. "The only goodness we have comes from God but we continue to succor evil. You worship a man and you worship yourself. SURELY, if there is a Hell, you will burn in it for all your "knowledge" of God!"
It took less than a moment for me to regret these words, thrown like stones in anger. However, today I do recognize their utmost importance in my life. As I looked around me that day, I saw many strange faces, all displaying varying degrees of reaction to my tirade. One face, in particular, was marked by grave interest and... curiosity. The man had dark Arab features and a long graying beard. In a moment, he approached me and said, "I want to show you something."
I followed him into the library; we walked amid countless shelves of human "wisdom." In silence, we reached the area marked "600's-religion and philosophy." He searched a moment and then proceeded to hand me a book entitled, The Noble Qur'an. It had a translator but no author. "Read this," he said, "and find peace because Sister you are Muslim."
I read the Qur'an in less than a day and then I read it again. I felt the first stirrings of true trust in my life. For me, this volume answered every mystery I cared to question.
One of the great guiding principles of Islam is that the believer should tread a path between fear and hope. He should not take it for granted that he will enter Paradise, because this will make him complacent, and he does not know in what state he will die. Nor should he assume that he is going to Hell, because this is despairing of the mercy of Allaah, which is forbidden. So the believer does righteous deeds, and hopes that Allaah will reward him for them, and he avoids evil deeds out of fear of the punishment of Allaah. If he commits a sin, he repents in order to gain forgiveness and protect himself from the punishment of Hell.
Allaah forgives all sins and accepts the repentance of those who repent. If a believer fears that the good deeds he has sent on before him are not enough, as you suggest, then he will increase his efforts, in fear and hope. No matter how many righteous deeds he has sent on before him, he cannot rely on them and take them for granted, or else he will be doomed. He keeps striving and hoping for reward, and at the same time he fears lest his deeds be contaminated with any element of showing off, self-admiration, or anything that will lead to them being rejected by Allaah. Allaah describes the believers (interpretation of the meaning):
"...those who give that (their charity) which they give (and also do other good deeds) with their hearts full of fear (whether their alms and charity, etc.) have been accepted or not), because they are sure to return to their Lord (for reckoning)." [al-Mu'minoon 23:60]
So the believer keeps on striving, fearing, and hoping, until he meets his Lord, believing in Tawheed (Divine Unity) and doing righteous deeds, and earns the pleasure of his Lord and Paradise. If you think about the matter, you will realize that these are the right motives for action, and that righteousness cannot be achieved in this life in any other way.
As regards to what Christians say about original sin, this matter needs to be approached from several angles.
Firstly: The Islamic belief concerning human sin is: the individual bears the responsibility for his own sin; no one else should bear this burden for him, nor should he bear the burden for anyone else. Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): "And no bearer of burdens shall bear another's burden..." [Faatir 35:18] This refutes the idea of original sin. If the father commits a sin, what fault is that of his children and grandchildren? Why should they bear the burden of a sin that someone else committed? The Christian belief that the descendents should bear the sin of their father is the essence of injustice. How can any sane person say that the sin should be carried down the centuries by all of humanity, or that the children, grandchildren, and subsequent descendants should be tainted because of their father's sin?
Secondly, making mistakes is a part of human nature. Our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, "Every son of Aadam is bound to commit sinsâ€¦" (reported by al-Tirmidhi, 2423), but Allaah has not left man unable to do anything about the mistakes that he makes. He gives man the opportunity to repent, and so the hadeeth (words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) quoted above concludes: "...and the best of those who commit sins are those who repent." The mercy of Allaah is clear in the teachings of Islam, as Allaah calls His servants (interpretation of the meaning):
"Say, 'O My servants who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allaah, verily Allaah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." [al-Zumar 39:53]
This is human nature, and this is the solution to the problem of sin. But to make this human nature, which is bound to make mistakes, a barrier between the servant and his Lord which will prevent him from ever earning the pleasure of God, and to say that the only way to reach God is through His sending His (so-called) son down to earth to be humiliated and crucified while his father looks on, so that mankind could be forgiven, is an extremely odd idea. Just describing it sounds so unlikely that there is no longer any need to refute it in detail. Once, when discussing this issue with a Christian, I said, "If you say that God sent down His son to be crucified to atone for the sins of the people alive at his time and afterwards, what about those who had come before and died as sinners before the time of Christ, and had no opportunity to know about him and believe in the Crucifixion so that their sins might be forgiven?" All he could say was: "No doubt our priests have an answer to that!" Even if they do have an answer, it is bound to be concocted. There is no real answer.
If you really examine the Christian teaching on human sin with an open mind, you will see that they say that God sacrificed His only son to atone for the sins of mankind, and that this son was a god. If it was true that he was a god who was beaten, insulted and crucified, and died, then this doctrine contains elements of blasphemy because it accuses God of weakness and helplessness. Is God really incapable of forgiving the sins of all His servants with just one word? If He is Able to do all things (and the Christians do not dispute this fact), then why would He need to sacrifice His son in order to achieve the same thing? (Glorified and exalted be He far above what the wrongdoers say about Him!)
"He is the Originator of the heavens and the earth. How can He have children when He has no wife? He created all things and He is the All-Knower of everything." [al-An'aam 6:101 - interpretation of the meaning]
An ordinary man would not accept anyone harming his child; he would come to his defense, and would never hand him over to an enemy who would insult him, let alone leave him to face the worst kind of death. If this is the attitude of a mere created being, what then of the Creator?
Thirdly, the Christian doctrine of original sin has a negative effect because, as you have mentioned, it does not require any duties of man other than to believe that God sent His son to this earth to be crucified and to die to atone for the sins of mankind. Thus a person becomes a Christian and is to earn the pleasure of God and be admitted to heaven. Moreover, the Christian believes that everything that happened to the son of God was only to atone for his sins, past present and future, so there is no need to wonder why Christian societies have seen such an increase in murder, rape, robbery, alcoholism and other problems. After all, did not Christ die to atone for their sins, and haven't their sins been wiped out, so why should they stop doing these things? Tell me, by your Lord, why do you sometimes execute murderers, or put criminals in jail, or punish them in other ways, if you believe that the criminal's sins have all be atoned for and forgiven through the blood of Christ? Is this not a strange contradiction?
The faults in the behavior of some modern Muslims cannot be blamed on Islam; those faults are the result of going against Islamic teachings. It is not fair to blame the religion for the faults of some of its adherents who have gone against it or gone astray. Are Muslims not being more just than Christians when they affirm that the sinner is threatened with the punishment of Allaah unless he repents, and that for some sins there is a deterrent, a punishment to be carried out in this world as an expiation for the Hereafter, as in the case of the punishments for murder, theft, fornication/adultery, etc.?
The key to Islam is no more than two simple phrases: "Ash-hadu an laa ilaaha ill-Allaah wa anna Muhammadan Rasool-Allaah (I bear witness that there is no god except Allaah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allaah)." With these few words, a person enters Islam in a matter of seconds. There is no need for baptism or priests, or even to go to a certain place such as a mosque or anywhere else. Compare this with the ridiculous procedures of baptism which the Christians do when they want to admit someone to the Church. Then there is the fact that the Christians venerate the cross on which Jesus was tortured and crucified in great pain - as they claim. They take it as a sacred object of blessing and healing, instead of scorning it and hating it as a symbol of oppression and the worst possible way for the son of God to die!
Do you not see that the Muslims are closer than others to the truth, because they believe in all the Prophets and Messengers, respecting them all and recognizing that all of them taught the truth of Divine Unity (Tawheed) and that each of them was appointed by Allaah and sent to his people with laws that were appropriate to the time and place? When the fair-minded Christian sees the followers of Islam believing in Musa (Moses), 'Eesaa (Jesus), and Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and in the original Torah and Gospel, as well as the Qur'aan, and sees his own people denying the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and rejecting the Qur'aan, wouldn't his open-mindedness make him think that the Muslims are most likely to be right?
Christians say that the Messiah said, "No one comes to the Father except through me". We need, first of all, to be sure that these words can truly be attributed to Jesus. Secondly, this is clearly not true. How then could mankind have known God at the times of Nooh (Noah), Hood, Saalih, Yoonus (Jonah), Shu'ayb (Jethro), Ibraaheem (Abraham), Musa (Moses) and other Prophets? If you were to say that during the time of Jesus (upon whom be peace) and up to the time of the Final Prophet, Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) the Children of Israel had no other way to know the religion of Allaah except through the way of Jesus, this would be correct.
Finally, the quote the Messiah as saying, "I and the Father are one". This is clearly not correct. If we examine the matter objectively, without letting our own desires get in the way, it becomes clear that the conjunction "and" in the phrase "I and the Father" implies that two separate entities are involved. "I" is one entity, and "the Father" is another. If you say, "So-and-so and I", it is obvious to any rational person that they are two separate people. The equation 1+1+1=1 makes no sense to any rational person, whether he is a mathematician or not.
Something "geographic" Muslims take for granted that every "revert" exults is the absolute beauty of the Qur'an's honesty. It is bittersweet in its reality. As a Muslim, I now understand faith is not something you can acquire. Everyone has some degree of faith that may either grow and bloom or atrophy and rot. I could be angry at Christians my whole life, judging them for everything they don't see. I could despair at mankind and its inhumanity. I could rage at every Muslim who turns from the straight path. But I know, the wrath of Allah (SWT) is Just-my knowledge is infantile. Who am I to know what is truth beyond what is written in my own heart as fact. I have now commenced my journey to peace which some may say started one cool spring afternoon outside of a public library. But I know better. I started this quest in my own heart the day I was born and I will continue until my death. I will strive (inshallah) to keep Allah (SWT) always in my heart and faith that is strong. And I no longer have disdain for those that attempt the same.
The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186
|Note from the Editor|
|Letters to the Editor|
|Islamic World News|
|Many in Hawaii|
Turning to Islam
|Surviving Our Enemy|
|Women in Islam|
|The Miracles of Zamzam|
|Islam is the Fastest Growing Religion|
|Dawah - Our Obligation|
|Wisdom in Islam|
|Stories of the Sahabah|
in the Quran
|Math in the Quran|
|Letter From Mecca by Malik El-Shabazz|
|Why I Embraced Islam|
of the Ant
|Sand and Stone|
|Eid Stamp & Poster|