Part I: Answering Muslim Questions
It’s past time that we should be ready, but many of us are still under-prepared. The opportunity to evangelize Muslims has been growing for a long time – but now the time is more urgent. Certain Muslim groups have prepared conversion campaigns targeted at Christians, and those who are not knowledgeable about the Bible, the atonement, the Holy Spirit, and the nature of Christ may find their own relationship to God at risk. Those in Christian leadership positions would do well to do more than simply know and defend their own stands. They would do well in guarding their sheep to make sure that their people are also prepared to understand and defend their faith. In this first part, we will look at general preparation, then a number of specific Muslim attacks commonly made against Christianity. In a future post, I hope to review other points of spreading the good news to Muslims.
Before discussing apologetics, it is necessary to look at one thing first: commitment. Many Christians have grown up in cultures that are Christian in name only, and too often we let ourselves be dragged down into the godless lifestyle of the atheists and agnostics around us. If you are a Christian who has let sexual temptation drive his life into sin, who has let greed or selfishness or worldliness drive his life away from God, the first thing to do is to turn back to God. Someone who has turned away from God cannot witness to him effectively. If you want to effectively witness to people who pray five times a day, fast 40 days a year, and have large portions of their scriptures memorized, each of us then has an obligation to make sure his own life is in order. Each person must examine himself before presuming to instruct others.
Still reading? Even if you realized that you have some work to do on your own life – no one is sinless – it would be good to be aware of some of the basic Muslim attacks against Christianity. And the first thing to be aware of is this: it is often truly an attack. Muslims often consider apologetics to be an extension of the jihad, and trying to spread the faith by word as a jihad of the tongue. The Christian ideal of calm and reasoned debate where the truth shines is very different from the jihad ideal of swift, decisive victory over humiliated opponents. Just as confusion is seen as a valid tactic in warfare, a certain percentage of Muslim apologists – including some prominent and respected figures in the Muslim apologetics scene such as Ahmed Deedat – do not have any moral problems with taking advantage of peoples’ ignorance, selective use of the facts, or various other tactics which Christians would see as less than honest. Knowing your facts is your best defense against this guerrilla-style apologetics.
So which facts should you know? Let’s start with areas which Muslims frequently attack, and look at Christian responses. The questions below are likely to come up in apologetics conversations with Muslims. Of course, as with any conversation, each person will bring unique questions to the table; it’s also necessary to have a general background of knowing and understanding the Bible. The suggested answers below are examples with notes given on why that response was chosen. I’d encourage people to work through the questions on their own and make responses which they believe are best. Solid knowledge of the Bible, and of who Jesus is, will allow the Christian to respond flexibly to different attacks.
Common Muslim attacks on Christianity
Q. Where did Jesus say, “I am God, worship me”?
A. Jesus did not even say, “I am the Messiah, bow before me.” He said that he shared glory with the Father before the world began (John 17:5), that who has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:9), that he would be the judge of the world on the Last Day (John 5:22-23, Matthew 25:31-46), and that he and the Father are one (John 10:30). He accepted worship from his disciple, who called him “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28-29).
Notes: The shortness of the answer is important. I started with Jesus not saying “I am the Messiah” because the Qur’an calls Jesus the Messiah, therefore Muslims are obliged to accept that. Then I move forward to what Jesus did say. The Muslims accept that Jesus was a prophet and what he says should carry some weight. This approach will only go so far in that Muslims typically distrust the Bible, but it is an opening that stays with Christian principles of honest and respectful answers while still giving a strong answer to the Muslim attack. The citations are given for reference but it would be awkward to memorize them for recital. It might be good to bookmark them. Where there are too many words, the point can easily get lost. In most of the later responses, I often rely on the reader’s familiarity with the Bible.
Q. “Why do you worship three gods? How are you better than idolaters? Repent and acknowledge that God has no equals.”
A. Of course there is one God and he has no equal. Jesus did not say he was another God, but that he was one with the only true God. He is the Word of God, come down as truly human so we could see and hear him plainly, so we could understand what God is like.
Notes: It is important to quickly and clearly make the point that we are not polytheists and idolaters, as many Muslims falsely believe about us. From there, I chose to take the conversation towards the nature of Christ, using the common ground that the Qur’an also calls Jesus the Word of God, though without any acknowledgment of what that really means as far as being eternal, unchangeable, and of the same essence as God himself. I also move the conversation towards the reasons why God would reveal himself this way. Many Muslims hold that it is not possible to know or understand God, only to submit to his will.
Q. “How can you demean God and say he begets a son? God has no female partner that he should have a son. Begetting is an animal act that is not fit for the holiness of God.”
A. When we call Jesus “Son of God”, we mean two things by it. The lesser one is that as a human he has no human father, but that he alone of all mankind was born of a special miracle from God. The second is that Jesus is the Word of God, the only kind of “Son” that is fitting for God, who is Spirit and is “begotten” not in an animal way, but by Spirit alone. The Word of God is eternal and cannot change, and was with God before being born into the body of Jesus.
Notes: The Qur’an acknowledges that Jesus was born of a virgin, and the Bible calls this one of the reasons Jesus is known as “Son of God” (Luke 1:35), though I pointed out this is the lesser reason. I worked in the fact that Jesus alone was honored in this way because it can allow future building on Jesus being greater than Mohammed and on Jesus being the beginning of a new creation, as the Qur’an also notices Jesus is the first since Adam to be created by a special act of God. I also go back to the “Word of God” since that is in the Qur’an and Bible both, and try to bring out a little what that means. Here I’ve also left some openings for later discussions about the word of God: eternal and unchanging, which will come in handy both for discussions on the eternal nature of God’s Word incarnate as Jesus, and for discussions on whether the Qur’an is really the Word of God, since Mohammed revealed some verses and then later retracted or abrogated them, which no true prophet would ever do. I have not yet launched into that conversation because I first want to let the Muslim see that his objections have no real weight, and that the questioner can expect fair and reasonable responses even to questions which may not be fair or reasonable questions. With a little practice in an apologetics conversation, it’s often workable to let the “attacker” ask most of the question. If the questions are on a decent topic, then honestly answering those questions is usually the same as showing why we believe what we believe, and in asking the right question, they have invited us to share Jesus’ teachings with them.
Q. The Bible has so much evil in it: murder, rape, incest, prostitution, adultery. It is immoral. How can you believe it is the word of God?
A. The Bible condemns all such evil, but records what happened because it is true and because we are taught by it. From the records of evil we learn how much evil stains even holy men like Noah and David, how justified is God’s rage against us, the extent of God’s patience and mercy. We also see that God redeems and forgives some horrible sinners, restores the humble and repentant such as David to great honor as his servants.
Notes: Christians and Muslims have very different ways of thinking about the Word of God. Some patience is called for as they explore a different way of looking at inspiration. For a Muslim, it is shocking and evil even to suggest that Lot slept with his daughters, that Noah got drunk, that David was an adulterer and a murderer; it is scandalous to imagine that “immoral stories” like these should be in a holy book. Here I focus on why God would want us to know about those evil acts. I also introduce the idea, common amongst Christians, that even the prophets such as David are prone to evil, and that God redeems even those who have done great evil. This idea typically is not fully trusted by Muslims and seems a dangerous blurring of the line between “the good guys” and “the bad guys”. It provides us a chance to talk about the mercy of God, which Muslims all claim to believe in principle, but often shy away from when it comes to great sin on the one hand and to holy men on the other. I’ll address a few more questions about the Bible next, but your questioner may switch straight over to questions about redemption, discussed below.
Q. Jesus prophesied the coming of Mohammed: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:16). Why do you not believe Jesus?
A. Jesus promised that the Counselor would come while his disciples that he was speaking to were in Jerusalem, and that after his ascension to God they were not to leave the city until the Counselor came. When the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, came as Jesus said, hundreds of years before Mohammed was born, he gave them power to explain the wonders of God in every language, because the message of Jesus is for all mankind.
Notes: Sometimes the Muslim ignorance of the Bible is so profound that it boggles the mind; we struggle to remain respectful in the face of some of the outrageous nonsense that is claimed. But Mohammed claimed that Jesus had foretold him, which leaves Muslims inventively trying to fit Mohammed onto prophecies of the Holy Spirit, or of the Messiah of the tribe of Judah and line of David. It’s important for us to remember what Jesus taught us: Jesus foretold only false prophets and deceivers after him and said we should not listen to another’s voice. When John the Baptist asked if Jesus was the awaited one or whether to expect another, Jesus answered by pointing to his many miracles which had fulfilled the prophecies; there is no record of Mohammed healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, making the lame walk, or raising the dead as the prophesies required of the one who was to come. Once I even saw a Muslim web-site claim as a prophecy of Mohammed, “The prince of this world is coming” which, in the Bible, refers to the coming power of the devil. Your response will need to start with the specific passages that the Muslim tries to bring forward and then (this is important) show how it was truly fulfilled, so that they can appreciate the power of God in foretelling Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is good to be familiar with how the various prophecies are specific to someone coming from the line of Isaac and Jacob (not Ishmael), of the tribe of Judah, of David (descended from Jacob through Judah). For Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit – this prophecy has been a favorite of Muslims in many lands for centuries – it is good to mention that Jesus instructed his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, which was received in the year that Jesus rose from the dead, centuries before Mohammed was born. One difficult part of this conversation on prophecies is to refrain from ridiculing them; our goal is to show them the truth of God, and many will no longer listen if offended. Our goal is to explain that Jesus alone was God’s promised one: of the line of Jacob, Judah, and David; performed miracles; died as a covenant for the forgiveness of sins; rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God; and said we were to expect only his return and not listen to another voice.
Q. The Bible has been corrupted. How can you trust it?
A. Mohammed trusted the Bible of his day, calling people to check what Moses and Jesus had said before him. The Bibles we have now are older than the day of Mohammed, and Mohammed trusted the Bible of his day. How can you distrust it when Mohammed trusted it? Mohammed said Jesus was a prophet, and no word of God should be ignored. Have you read Jesus’ teachings? May I recite one for you?
Notes: Mohammed spoke with respect and reverence of Jesus and Moses and of the books that came before, as Mohammed called the Bible. This can create an opening to get them to hear Jesus’ words. Jesus’ great sermons and parables leave Mohammed’s teachings in the dust; but it is best simply to let the Muslim see it for himself so that he can see that you are not attacking anything holy, but leading to what is better. It may come in handy to have any of Jesus’ short and memorable teachings truly memorized – whether the beatitudes, or the “Love your enemies” section of the Sermon on the Mount, or the teaching about the evil of sins in the heart, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the Good Samaritan, the sheep and the goats – the list goes on. It is better to have any one or two well-memorized, especially when dealing with someone from an Arab culture where memory-work is held in high value. If you memorize only one passage, please memorize where Jesus is asked what is the greatest command of the law, and answers that the greatest is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and that the second is like it, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Neither of these commands is found anywhere in the Qur’an, and it is important that they should hear the word of God.
Q. Your Bible says that God “rested” on the seventh day. Your “god” is weak. The Qur’an says God never grows tired. God cannot be tired! How can you believe in such a weak god?
A. Jesus said that God made the Sabbath for mankind (Mark 2:27). The Bible says God does not tire or slumber or sleep. The Sabbath is part of God’s plan of creation, the blessing of rest that God made not for himself but as a gift for us. It is a foretaste of paradise, of the world to come, where we rest from our work, where we are humble about how little all our work really accomplishes, and are glad for the blessings God gives us.
Notes: Muslims usually imagine that Christians have a very low concept of God. Also, Muslims typically have a very law-oriented, power-oriented approach to the world. An emphasis on gladness and blessing is not completely foreign to Islam, but Christianity holds a much larger place for these things. Many Muslims are thirsty for news of God’s love and God’s blessing, for an approach to God that is not completely rooted in law and submission, for God using his power in a way that calls for gladness in addition to humility and submission.
Q. The Bible says not to eat pork, and that men must be circumcised. Why have Christians turned away from the commands of God?
A. Circumcision was given as a sign of the covenant only to the children of Abraham, not to all the nations. The command to refrain from pork was given only to the Israelites, not to all the nations. In the Bible, we find that all nations are called to have circumcised hearts, hearts which are devoted to God and refrain from evil; this command is given to all nations and not just the children of Abraham. Jesus said that what a man eats does not defile a man but what comes out of his heart: evil thoughts, hatred, lust, and deceit make us truly unclean before God. We must honor God with our hearts. This command is for all people of all times.
Notes: As commonplace as Jesus’ teachings are among Christians, the ideas are often new to Muslims who are still used to evaluating holiness and cleanness in terms of what can be seen of a person’s actions: what can be eaten, how we have washed. Jesus said not to neglect smaller things, but to pursue the greater: justice and mercy. Now, I’d like to bring a complaint against ourselves: that our emphasis on internal cleanness is sometimes, against Jesus’ teachings, used by some people as nothing more than an excuse for living horribly on the outside and still pretending we are ok. This is nothing but self-deceit. In order for us to explain Jesus’ teachings well, we must also live them as well as we possibly can. We must lead holy and reverent lives so that Jesus’ teachings will be seen as Jesus meant them and not be subject to slander. I brought up the part about Jesus’ teachings being for all people of all times first because the teachings of circumcision and pork were not, second because the Muslims suppose that Jesus’ teaching was only for Israel and that Mohammed was the prophet for all people of all times. If the conversation starts going this direction, it is useful to note that an authoritative early Muslim source records that Jesus’ followers were given the power to speak in different languages, as the Bible also records. Mohammed’s followers were not given the power to speak in different languages. Everyone can draw their own conclusion about which message God meant for the whole world.
Note with caution: I have not found anywhere that the Qur’an teaches refraining from pork or being circumcised, and have heard some anti-Muslim apologists say there is no such passage. It is likely that these parts of Islam are borrowed from Judaism. I would only mention this last bit if I were in a conversation where the person was so hardened in enmity and dedicated to attack that he needed to be surprised, where openness to Jesus’ teachings was not going to be done in the current state of hardness of heart, and the attacker needed to think more about his unquestioning assumption that the Qur’an is God’s word. In a conversation with an especially dedicated anti-Christian, I would issue a counter challenge: John the Baptist and Jesus taught baptism, and Jesus commanded baptism for all nations. Why are you not baptized, and why did Mohammed not teach baptism? This approach could be useful because the Qur’an acknowledges both John the Baptist and Jesus as prophets. I’d only recommend going this route if you are faced with a hostile opponent who needs to stop and think a little and if you are also comfortable defending the theology of baptism if challenged.
Q. Why does the Bible show Jesus drinking wine, and even using a miracle to create wine? Why all this moral decadence?
A. Why do you say it is wrong for Jesus to create wine by a miracle, but not wrong for God to make a world where there is wine? Wine is not evil, only the misuse of it is evil, and the Bible condemns misuse of it. There are many things that are not evil of themselves, but their misuse is evil. For all the many people who misuse wine, it would still be wrong to forget that wine is a good gift from God.
Notes: It is important to establish that wine itself it not evil, while still condemning the immoral uses of wine and noting that the Bible also condemns them. It may be useful to follow up with your own approach to the topic. For some Muslims, it is news that one cup of wine does not lead to intoxication and that it only takes self-control to be able to drink without becoming drunk. Do not encourage or pressure a Muslim to drink; this would be an affront to them and completely unnecessary. Remember that many Christians also abstain from alcohol. As a side note, it is possible that the Muslim will still claim that wine is evil and that God created evil to test us. We need to insist, along with the Bible, that all that God made is good. This leads directly to our next point.
Q. How can you say God did not create evil? Who but God can create?
A. I will tell you who can create, and who can destroy. God alone can create, but anyone can destroy, and this is the cause of evil. Evil is not a thing where you can point at a place in the universe and say, “There it is, there is evil! Let’s destroy it and be rid of it once and for all.” Evil is a turning away from God. God is clear of us, and is holy. God is good all the time.
Notes: More than once I have met Muslims who firmly insist that God has created evil, though it may be that there are Muslims who do not believe such a thing. In this, Christians typically think the Muslims are blasphemers making God the author of evil and no better than the devil but only more powerful. We have to explain our view of the holiness of God, and how unfitting it is that God, who is holy, who alone is truly good and the source of all good, should be accused of being the source of evil. For their part, Muslims may imagine that we are blasphemers and imagine that we ascribe creative powers to someone besides God. Christianity has long said that evil is not a created thing but a corruption, a destruction, and a turning from God, but this is sometimes a new idea to Muslims. “God is good all the time” has been used as a greeting amongst Christians living in Muslim-dominated countries. It may be that our brothers are seeking a way in everyday conversation to bring to mind the differences in their views of God.
Q. Jesus did not die, neither was he crucified. Why do you believe God would abandon Jesus to such a death?
A. Jesus’ disciples saw him die. His mother Mary saw him die. The Roman executioner stuck a spear in his side to make sure he had died. David prophesied about Messiah, even that his clothes would be taken and the guards would cast lots for them, just as happened when Jesus died on the cross. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he showed the wounds of his torture and death to his disciples as proof that he was not a ghost. The prophet Isaiah – a true prophet who foretold that Messiah must be born of a maiden – also foretold that Messiah would die horribly and be raised from the dead. Isaiah foretold that Jesus is our covenant with God. Jesus’ covenant is for the forgiveness of sins.
Notes: Even though it is very plain that Jesus was crucified, you’re going to meet tough resistance on this one because the Qur’an says that Jesus did not die and was not crucified. A Muslim simply cannot admit that they are wrong on this point because it truly amounts to acknowledging that the Qur’an is human, simply from Mohammed and not from God. The fact of Jesus’ crucifixion directly calls into question Mohammed’s claim to have been a prophet. Because the Muslim cannot concede this point and still be a Muslim, there will probably be follow-up attacks against Jesus’ crucifixion. Some Muslims will bring up the “Gospel of Barnabas”, a late forgery which seems to have been written by a Muslim and has Mohammed as the Messiah. A good basic article is here; you can read more for the price of a search on most search engines. Some Muslims argue that God made Judas Iscariot look like Jesus and Judas was crucified in Jesus’ place. But then why would Judas call for the forgiveness of his executioners, or arrange for Jesus’ mother Mary to be placed in someone’s care? Why on the third day later does Jesus have wounds from nails and spear? Some say Jesus survived crucifixion, but this disregards the fact that his executioners had taken a spear and rammed it into his side to make sure he was dead; it also misses the fact that Jesus being on the cross at all goes against the Qur’an which says he was not crucified. When it seems productive to you, use the cross to introduce some of the ideas of redemption: a covenant or God’s own guarantee that he will do a certain thing, a covenant guaranteeing forgiveness of sins, and resurrection of the dead. Do not hold out for an admission that the Qur’an is wrong. Allow them to think about the facts, and give them some time by introducing why the crucifixion matters: the covenant and forgiveness, so that they remember their other objections to Christianity that you want to address. While the idea of covenant is found throughout the Bible, Mohammed did not receive a covenant from God. This does not need to be pointed out except to the hard-hearted. For most, it will be enough if we explain what a covenant is and how through the Bible God has revealed his covenants with us – and that Jesus is our covenant with God for the forgiveness of sins.
Q. No one can atone for the sins of another. No one can carry another’s sins. When you live sinful lives and trust Jesus to save you, are you not just kidding yourselves?
A. No one who rebels against God, unrepentant, has forgiveness. But Jesus alone had no sin. Of all people ever born, even of all the messengers of God, Jesus alone had no sin of his own. The prophets foretold that one alone in all the world would be born of a maiden, and would come as a special creation of God for a special purpose. This purpose was to be a covenant with God for us, for our cleansing, for the forgiveness of sins. All of us need forgiveness and God does not owe this forgiveness to any one of us. Without forgiveness, all of us alike would be lost. God binds himself and makes a covenant for us in Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins. We do not trust our own goodness, and think of this as nothing but pride. We trust God’s goodness, and trust God through Jesus’ sacrifice.
Notes: This answer works with the fact that most Muslims acknowledge that Jesus was sinless; it is another point which he has over Mohammed, though it is probably best if you let them figure out that by themselves. The news that all are sinners in danger of hell is frightening to many Muslims, who often believe that a good life will earn heaven and that they themselves may not be guilty of much sin. These points may need some attention; calling attention to our own sins of thought using Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount may be a good path to take if it seems necessary to convince someone that “all have sinned”. By this point in the conversation, you should have some idea whether the Muslim is open to hearing about Jesus. If you have some parts of the Bible memorized – or at least learned well – you might explain what Jesus taught. You may wish to give them a copy of the New Testament. If they struggle with English as a second language, there are places where you can order Bibles in a variety of other languages.
If you plan to have any serious discussions with a Muslim, please read a copy of the Qur’an. There is no better way to begin understanding Muslim culture. It is also good to familiarize yourself with the basic issues. I hope this post has been a small starter, but other sites are available.
Answering Islam is usually a moderate site.
Answers to Islam is not always moderate. You may find useful material here and useful background knowledge. Please consider well what tone you would like to use in your own approach. It will likely depend on the topic. Some Muslim anti-Christians are over-the-top outrageous in their claims, and this site answers them as fast as it can. This site occasionally has the "shocked outrage" voice of those who have recently discovered that Islam was not, after all, just sweetness and light before the foundation of modern Israel and that its tendency towards violence does, after all, trace straight back to Mohammed.
For our part, it is important that we should conduct ourselves in a way worthy of Christ. Their questions – even attacks – show what they do not understand and what we need to show them. Among the most important things we need to show is love. While answering with truth and reason, we need to be sure the conversation does not slide down into mere argumentation, which gives the illusion to any argument that both sides are the same. Christianity is true and loving, but more than this: it is good news. The best apologetics will cross that line to evangelism and explain the goodness of God.
The members of the CADRE maintain this blog for commenting on various items of interest to apologetics. We welcome input. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Religious a priori is an apologetics website covering philosophy of religion (existence of God) religion and science bogus atheist social science, and issues of Biblical Scholarship.
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Part I: Answering Muslim Questions