Islam in the End Times
I am going to quote the Quran at some length which some Christians might question. My reasons are:
1. Many Christians have not read the Quran and are not informed about its teaching (which is fair enough: I’m not encouraging them to read it).
2. However the principle of justice requires that a person (or in this case a religious group) must be heard before any judgment can be made on their faults. Sadly, there is much ignorant, judgmental and even racist comment on Islam and this is not a godly attitude. I am therefore seeking to allow Islam to speak for itself and then to go on to criticise it in a fair and informed way. God after all is a God of justice.
I am (and will be) critical of Islam. I have lived amongst Muslims in East Jerusalem. I have dialogued with them in this country and I regularly study in some depth what is going on in Muslim circles and the Muslim world. However I am trying to speak in Christian love about the many decent Muslims, and I am seeking to be particularly sensitive and careful how I make legitimate criticisms of Islam and some Muslims. We have to be careful how our words come over. If we keep being critical and negative towards Muslims we confirm the feelings of rejection they already have and we put them off the Gospel. This is serious and I want to dissociate myself completely from it.
I strongly disapprove of Islamophobia (prejudice against, dislike or fear of Muslims). It should be strongly rejected, especially by Christians. To be negative towards a person because they belong to a particular group – religious, racial, etc., - is a hangover from primitive tribal exclusiveness. More important, it is a contradiction of the fundamental duty for Christians of loving our neighbours. We are to love our Muslim neighbour as much as any other neighbour.
To regard all Muslims with suspicion as a potential danger because of the existence of Islamic extremists is both ridiculous and judgmental (another attitude Christians are called to avoid). After all, there have been many violent ‘Christian’ extremists in the past, even the fairly recent past e.g. in Northern Ireland. But we don’t therefore regard all Christians with suspicion as a potential danger.
I have met numerous very decent people who are Muslims. They disapprove of violent Islamic extremism as much as we do. For example, British Muslim leaders issued a fatwa (edict) saying that British Muslims allied to the Islamic State are heretics. It was also moving to see a Muslim colleague of the (non-Muslim) kidnapped aid worker, Alan Henning, in tears on TV news over his murder by Islamic State which shows the compassion of ordinary Muslims. I have been involved in dialogue sessions with Muslims in a university context. Their friendly welcome and generous hospitality has been exemplary. I have had contact with Muslims involved in reconciliation and, of course, in caring professions. I have come across Muslims who show remarkable forgiveness after terrible traumas.
I have been impressed with the reverence and commitment of Muslims in their worship. Their chanting can be evocative. I remember seeing an Islamic epilogue on Jordan TV. It was in Arabic which I could not understand but there was a sense of awe at the transcendence of God. On another occasion I spent some hours debating theology with a Nigerian imam on a train journey after we had done a TV interview together. He knew the NT well and gave me a run for my money!
Many Muslims say Islam is a religion of peace. For example, the Forever Muslim blog states that Islam is a religion of peace, justice and tolerance. It says Muslims should practise religious tolerance, respect promises and agreements with non-Muslims, protecting their lives and property. It adds: “Only enemies who harbor hatred and contempt against Islam are addressed by those Quranic verses that warn Muslims against taking them as intimates and allies … They are always to behave kindly toward any non-Muslim who are not hostile … it is not permissible under any circumstance for Muslims to mistreat a non-Muslim who has not committed any aggression against them; they are not allowed to harm, threaten or terrorize him, steal his wealth, cheat him or deprive him of his rights.”
However, it has to be remembered that, whereas there have been some tolerant Islamic regimes in the past and today, there are a significant number which are oppressive towards minorities such as Christians. Islam is a missionary religion which seeks to win the world to its faith, as does Christianity. They are the only two major religions claiming to be universal truth which their adherents are obliged to spread to the rest of mankind. Both religions have used violence and repression in the past but Christianity has now discarded such an ungodly approach, whereas significant numbers of Muslims have not.
There is no getting away from the fact that much of the growing persecution of Christians happens in a Muslim context. Persecution is taking place against Christians in 47 countries of the world, most of which are Muslim.
Bernard Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and an expert on Islam says that there are two myths about Islam. “The negative one sees Muslims as a collection of bloodthirsty barbarians offering people the choice of the Koran or the sword, and generally bringing tyranny and oppression wherever they go. And the other one is the exact opposite, what you might call the sanitized version, which presents Islam as a religion of love and peace, rather like the Quakers ... The truth is in its usual place, somewhere between the extremes.”
He writes elsewhere about Islam’s duty to subjugate non-Muslims: “It is the duty of those who have accepted them [Allah's word and message] to strive unceasingly to convert or at least to subjugate those who have not. This obligation is without limit of time or space. It must continue until the whole world has either accepted the Islamic faith or submitted to the power of the Islamic state.”
More recently we have seen the emergence of Al Qaeda and then IS, the so-called Islamic State, which is already notorious for its barbaric violence.
The following are the main passages in the Quran which advocate violence. As we have noted, many people claim that these passages are in the context of self-defence, when Muslims are attacked (which I find difficult to accept with some passages). Others disagree, but that debate doesn’t seem so relevant when we remember that many Muslims do feel under attack today in one way or another, including militarily by the west. They feel they are the victims of injustice and humiliation. So even if these verses are in the context of self-defence they would be seen by significant numbers of Muslims as justifying violence. However we should note that polls show many Muslims condemn terrorism and the killing of non-combatants. Bernard Lewis is quite clear that Muslim jurists do not approve of terrorism and Muslims are commanded not to kill women, children or elderly people. They are not to practise indiscriminate slaughter or to harm non-combatants. Nevertheless some Muslims justify terrorism. Here are the passages I referred to:
“Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low” (9:29).
“Choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back [to enmity] then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them … Ye will find others who desire that they should have security from you, and security from their own folk. So often as they are returned to hostility they are plunged therein. If they keep not aloof from you nor offer you peace nor hold their hands, then take them and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant … Relent not in pursuit of the enemy” (4:89, 91, 104)
“We shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve because they ascribe unto Allah partners, for which no warrant hath been revealed” (3:151).
“How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: Our Lord! Bring us forth from out this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender! Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of idols. So fight the minions of the devil. Lo! The devil's strategy is ever weak. Hast thou not seen those unto whom it was said: Withhold your hands, establish worship and pay the poor due, but when fighting was prescribed for them behold! a party of them fear mankind even as their fear of Allah or with greater fear, and say: Our Lord! Why hast Thou ordained fighting for us? If only Thou wouldst give us respite yet a while! Say [unto them, O Muhammad]: The comfort of this world is scant; the Hereafter will be better for him who wardeth off [evil]; and ye will not be wronged …” (4:75-77)
“O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred [steadfast] they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they[the disbelievers] are a folk without intelligence. … It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land” (8:65, 67).
“Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them [captive], and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful … Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low … O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty [unto Him]” (9:5, 29, 123).
“Lo! Allah loveth them who battle for His cause in ranks, as if they were a solid structure” (61:4).
“And with how many a prophet have there been a number of devoted men who fought [beside him]. They quailed not for aught that befell them in the way of Allah, nor did they weaken, nor were they brought low. Allah loveth the steadfast. Their cry was only that they said: Our Lord! forgive us for our sins and wasted efforts, make our foothold sure, and give us victory over the disbelieving folk” (3:146-147).
“That which befell you, on the day when the two armies met, was by permission of Allah; that He might know the true believers; And that He might know the hypocrites, unto whom it was said: Come, fight in the way of Allah, or defend yourselves. They answered: If we knew aught of fighting we would follow you. On that day they were nearer disbelief than faith. They utter with their mouths a thing which is not in their hearts. Allah is best aware of what they hide. Those who, while they sat at home, said of their brethren [who were fighting for the cause of Allah]: If they had been guided by us they would not have been slain. Say [unto them, O Muhammad]: Then avert death from yourselves if ye are truthful” (3:166-168).
Allah also promises pardon and heaven to those who are “slain in Allah’s way” (3:156-158, 195; 4:74. cf. 2:216; 3:121-127; 4:84; 8:15-17; 33:26; 48:19-20).
I searched the Quran for references to believers needing to show love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness but they are very few and far between. I found only 14 out of some 6236 verses referring to these qualities.
There are numerous references to God’s forgiveness (incl Sura 40. Al-Ghafir - The Forgiver [God]) but I found only eight references to human beings needing to forgive. Muslims are urged to “forgive and be indulgent” towards “the people of Scripture (primarily Christians) who “long to make you disbelievers” - convert you to Christianity (2:109). Muhammad is told to forgive (3:159; 7:199; 15:85). Patience and forgiveness is commended (42:43 cf 24:22) including for “those who hope not for the days of Allah” (45:43 cf 64:14).
I found only three references to the need for human beings to show mercy. The Quran says that God “ordained between you love and mercy” (30:21). It also describes that those with Muhammad were “hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves” (48:29). The most significant verse is where Allah says: We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Gospel, and placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him” (57:27). This is the only time where the Quran mentions humans showing compassion.
I found only three references to Muslims being called to love others. Two refer to them loving opponents (3:119; 60:7) and one to loving Muslim fugitives (59:9).
However there are the following statements: “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors” (2:190) and “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). This does not alter the fact that most relevant passages in the Quran seem to be open to the interpretation that they favour violence.
Opposing Islamophobia does not mean that we can and should ignore the important theological and spiritual differences between Christians and Muslims. After all, Islam makes strong criticism of Christianity, e.g. that belief in the divinity of Christ is blasphemous. It says there is no hope for us Christians since we do not accept Islam. Allah says: “Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. (Quran 4:56). If we believe in the divinity of Christ and the Trinity Allah will forbid us paradise and our abode will be fire of hell (Quran 3:12; 5:75, 76; 66:9; 98:6).
Muslims are exhorted not to make friends of Christians or Jews: “O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is [one] of them. (Quran 5:54).
Although there are important areas of agreement between Christianity and Islam there are very serious fundamental contradictions as well. One area of agreement is over the Creator God. I am aware of the controversy over whether Allah is the same as the God of the Bible, Yahweh. Christians disagree. Some Christians believe that Allah is the moon-god but Christian scholars contradict this. Certainly, Islam has a view of God which to some extent is contradictory to the teaching of the Bible. That is because they do not accept the revelation of God in Christ. However it must be remembered that the Hebrew Bible names for God – “El” and “Elohim” - come from a polytheist (many gods) background, e.g. the Canaanites. In fact Elohim is plural and can mean “gods.” Abraham and the patriarchs came from a polytheist background out of which came belief in one God. Similarly, Islam was born in a polytheist context but it strongly teaches there is only one God. The Quran says: “Do not prostrate to the sun or the moon; but prostrate to Allah Who created them, if it is in truth Him Whom ye worship.” (41:37). Statements such as that do indicate agreement over the Creator God.
The main contradiction between Islam and Christianity is over the person and work of Jesus.
Islam affirms Jesus (Isa) as:
· Born of a virgin (Quran 3:47)
· A great prophet
· Messiah (Quran 3:45)
· A miracle worker
· Returning to earth in the future.
But Islam denies:
· The divinity of Jesus.
· The atoning death of Jesus (there is some debate in Islam as to whether Jesus did die or only appeared to die but the fundamental truth of his atoning death is denied).
· The resurrection of Jesus (the Islamic view of his being raised to heaven is often not resurrection from the dead but more like ascension – Quran 3:55).
· Salvation through faith in Jesus.
The Quran teaches that Jesus is the Messiah (3:45) but he “was no other than a messenger, messengers [the like of whom] had passed away before him” (5:78). He was not the divine Son of God: “O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not "Three" - Cease! [it is] better for you! - Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender” (Quran 4:171). “The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a child, when there is for Him no consort, when He created all things and is Aware of all things?” (6:101). “And say: Praise be to Allah, Who hath not taken unto Himself a son, and Who hath no partner in the Sovereignty, nor hath He any protecting friend through dependence. ...” (17:111). “It befitteth not [the Majesty of] Allah that He should take unto Himself a son” (19:35 cf 19:88-92; 5:119).
The Quran teaches that Jesus didn’t die, saying of the Jews: “And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger - they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise” (4:157-158).
There are various Muslim interpretations of this verse. The majority interpretation is that God made someone look like Jesus and that person, not Jesus, died on the cross. The second view is that Jesus was crucified but was not on the cross long enough to die. The third view is that Jesus was crucified but his body was immortal so it only appeared that he died. The fourth view is simply that the crucifixion did not happen. The fifth view is that Jesus didn’t die on the cross (which would have dishonoured him) but that God ‘gave him death’ before he ascended.
The crucial thing is that Muslims deny that Jesus died an atoning, saving death on the cross which, of course, is absolutely fundamental to Christianity.
Muslims believe that Jesus will return to help the Mahdi (“rightly guided one”) to fight against the Dajjal (Antichrist). Sunnis believe Jesus will kill the Antichrist. Shia believe the Mahdi will do so. When the Mahdi dies Jesus will rule over a period of peace and justice for about 40 years. Then he will die and be buried in Medina. Jesus will be a committed Muslim. Christians and Jews will join him in the Islamic faith. All religion other than Islam will be wiped out.
However much we oppose Islamophobia and seek to love our Muslim neighbour, and whatever truth we see in Islam, we have to conclude that our Muslim friends are seriously deceived spiritually. Their creed denies the gospel. There is no salvation in a faith which denies the incarnation (divinity) of Christ, his atoning death and his resurrection - understood as triumph over human sin. Their concept of Jesus’ return in the end times is seriously inconsistent with biblical teaching, not least because he is seen as a committed Muslim. We can only see such a returning messiah as a false messiah.
What, then, inspired the Islamic faith proclaimed by Mohamed? I have to conclude that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). The word ‘unbeliever’ there means someone who does not trust in Christ as saviour.
We must note the huge growth and influence of Islam over the centuries. It is truly remarkable that an illiterate merchant from Mecca could have launched such a powerful religion which 1500 years later could have 1.6 billion followers, 23.4% of the world’s population (compared with some 2.1 billion Christians).
Out of 196 countries in the world 49 countries (25%) have a Muslim majority (32 with over 90%; 7 with 80-90%; 4 with 70-80%; 6 with 50-69%). There are also 8 countries with 25-49% Muslims.
In Europe, including Britain, the Muslim community is the fastest growing community. Professor Bernard Lewis told the Jerusalem Post in 2007 that he believed the Muslims “seem to be about to take over Europe.” He added that the only pertinent question regarding Europe's future would be, “Will it be an Islamized Europe or Europeanized Islam?” Some Muslim leaders have spoken of Islam taking over Europe through immigration and high birthrates. For example Muammar Gadhafi told Al-Jazeera in 2006: “We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe — without swords, without guns, without conquests … [they will] turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.”
How has this massive growth come about? It cannot be put down merely to human factors: birth-rate and family loyalties, although there is the effect of the wealth of Islamic regimes in oil-rich countries. It seems clear to me that there is a powerful supernatural factor.
As I see the situation, briefly:
· Islam has some beautiful and uplifting aspects, including a sense of awe at the transcendence of God.
· Many Muslims are honourable, peace-loving people.
· There can be no doubt that aspects of Islamic culture, such as their architecture, are beautiful.
· Islam believes in and honours Jesus as a great prophet, born of a virgin, messiah and miracle worker who will return to bring peace on earth.
· BUT Islam denies the incarnation (divinity) of Christ, his atoning death and his resurrection understood as triumph over human sin. The Jesus (Isa) of Islam is not the real Jesus but a false messiah.
· Islam makes strong criticism of Christianity, e.g. that belief in the divinity of Christ is blasphemous. It says there is no hope for us Christians since we do not accept Islam. We are duty bound to respond that Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is no salvation (eternal life) other than through Jesus Christ the divine Son of God crucified and risen. As John puts it: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11). All of this is denied by Islam.
· The growth of Islam over the centuries really can only be fully explained by supernatural considerations.
Islam is a very powerful and, to many, attractive supernaturally-inspired religion which proclaims a false messiah and expects him to return to rule on earth. It has growing influence throughout the world. It dominates the religious scene and in many places the political scene too. It has more than its fair share of extremists, so that, according to the recent US government National Counterterrorism Center report published in 2012 Sunni Muslim terrorists committed more than 70% (8,886) of the 12,533 terrorist murders. (It should be noted however, that the great majority of people killed by terrorists were Muslims). Security expert Amir Lechner founder of ThreatRate, a leading global risk management firm, wrote in 2007 that more than 95 percent of all suicide bombing attacks conducted worldwide are carried out by Muslim extremists.
What are we to make of all this?
There have been various attempts to see a major role for Islam in Christian eschatology.
Daniel had visions of and prophesied about four kingdoms. It seems clear that the four kingdom were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome (although some have said they were: Babylon, Medea, Persia and Greece. But Daniel seems clear that the Medes and the Persians were united in one empire Dan 5:28).
However, some people see the fourth kingdom prophesied by Daniel as Islam rather than Rome. They claim that the fourth kingdom was not Rome because Rome did not crush the previous three empires - Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece - as Daniel prophesies. It conquered Greece but the area that had been Babylonia and Medo-Persia was under Parthian control during the time of the Roman Empire. It is true, though, that Rome conquered Greece which had conquered Medo-Persia, which had conquered Babylon, so in a sense Rome had conquered the three empires.
Other interpreters have tried to include Islam in the 7 heads and 10 horns of the Beast in Revelation 13:1. We have already noted that one interpretation is that the seven heads which John says are both seven hills and seven kings i.e. seven Roman emperors, five in the past, one in John’s time and one to come. Another interpretation says the kings are ancient pagan empires including Rome. There is also an eighth king which Leon Morris thinks is the Roman Emperor Domitian who is another Nero. All of this is disputed.
However, another interpretation is that the 7 heads are the seven main empires which have ruled or dominated Jerusalem: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece (all of which had fallen by John’s time), Rome, and later
the (Muslim) Ottoman Empire which ruled over the Holy Land from 1516 to 1917. Some think that nations controlled or significantly influenced by Islam may unite under one leader (perhaps the Antichrist), thinking that he is the Mahdi (‘The rightly guided one,’ a messianic spiritual and political world leader who will establish righteousness in the End Times). They think there will be a revived caliphate (which has a modern ring to it because the Islamic State – ex-ISIS – are seeking to do just that). The caliphate – an Islamic empire ruled over by a caliph - a supreme religious and political leader - existed from the 7th century until it was abolished by Ataturk in 1924. The caliphate covered the territory which was controlled in the past by the Babylonian, Persian, and Greek empires.
Seeing a role for Islam in the end times is not a new idea. Luther and Calvin, the 16th century reformers, thought that the “little horn” of Daniel 7 might be Islam. Islam was a threat to Christianity in the 16th century because of its attacks in eastern and central Europe leading to the unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529 and eventually the Battle of Vienna in 1683. In 1518 Luther said that Islam was the “scourge of God” a punishment on the sins of Christendom. Calvin called Mohammad and the Pope “the two horns of the Antichrist.” John Wesley had a similar view.
There are problems with the idea that Islam is the “little horn” of Daniel 7. For example, the little horn arose out of the fourth kingdom (Rome) but Islam did not emerge from the Roman Empire. It originated in what is now Saudi Arabia.
Joyce Baldwin makes an interesting comment. She notes that the little horn of Dan 8:9, which grew out of one of the four horns of the he-goat, should not be identified with the little horn of Dan 7:8, which came up among the ten horns of the indescribable beast. “Though they have a superficial similarity, there are many differences between them and they do not belong to the same era. This fact is an indication that we are being introduced to a recurring historical phenomenon: the clever and ruthless world dictator, who stops at nothing to achieve his ambitions. The book proclaims that such rulers cannot ultimately succeed. Though they talk and act big, and though they cause great suffering to many, their end is sure.”
This shows that there is a flexibility in the apocalyptic language of the prophets which is different from modern western thinking. The ‘little horn” is “a recurring historical phenomenon.” On this basis Islam could be seen as a fulfilment of “little horn” prophecy but not necessarily the ultimate fulfilment of it.
Islam is certainly a sign of the End Times:
· A false prophet speaking of a returning false messiah.
· A very powerful and growing worldwide religious force not under the Lordship of Christ.
· Often persecuting the saints
That has to be a significant factor in end times thinking. Unlike Communism (which at the height of its power was seen by some as very significant in end times terms) it seems unlikely that Islam will fade in its power and influence in the world. But quite how it figures in the end times is not clear except that it will contribute to the final crisis prior to the return of Christ in his omnipotence and love.
Meanwhile, our priority is to love our Muslim
neighbour and to seek to win him/her to Christ.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page