VIII THE COMPLETED IDEA AND ITS INSUFFICIENCY
"If we regard God merely as the Absolute Being and nothing more, we know Him only as the general irresistible force, or, in other words, as the Lord. Now it is true that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it is likewise true that it is only its beginning. In the Mohammedan religion God is conceived only as the Lord. Now although this conception of God is an important and necessary step in the development of religious consciousness, it yet by no means exhausts the depths of the Christian idea of God." - Hegel's Werke, Vol. VI., p. 226.
WHAT is the result of our investigation of the Moslem idea of God? Is the statement of the Koran true, "Your God and our God is the same?" In as far as Moslems are monotheists and in as far as Allah has many of the attributes of Jehovah we cannot put Him with the false gods. But neither can there be any doubt that Mohammed's conception of God is inadequate, incomplete, barren and grievously distorted. It is vastly inferior to the
Christian idea of the Godhead and also inferior to the Old Testament idea of God. In the Book of Job alone there are more glorious descriptions of God's personality, unity, power and holiness than in all the chapters of the Koran. Carlyle in his praise of the Hero-prophet acknowledges this and says "he makes but little of Mohammed's praises of Allah, borrowed from the Hebrew and far surpassed there." Even the Fatherhood of God is clearly taught in the Old Testament but it is wholly absent from the Koran.
In the comparative study of religions ideas there must be a standard of judgment, and a Christian can only judge other religions by the standard of the Gospel. Islam itself through its prophet (who came, so he says as the seal of all prophecy), and in its Book challenges comparison by this standard. We are not dealing with the monotheism of Greek philosophy, which arose in the Court of the Gentiles under Plato and Aristotle; but with a monotheism which arose six centuries after Christ and professed to be an improvement or at least a restatement of the Christian idea. (See Surahs 42:1; 10:37, 93; 5:77, etc.) We accept, therefore, Islam's challenge. Jesus Christ proclaimed that no man knows the Father save through the Son. He is the brightness of the Father's glory. The impress of His essence. Whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father. Mohammed by denying Christ's Deity also denied that He came
on a unique and transcendent mission from the court of heaven - to show us the Father. Instead of arriving at his theology through the mind of Christ, as revealed in the gospels and developed through the Holy Spirit's teaching in the epistles, Mohammed went back to natural theology. He did not use, or would not use, the channel of knowledge opened by the Incarnation. Instead of learning from Him who descended from heaven, Mohammed asserted that he himself ascended to heaven and there had intercourse with God. (Surah 17:2 and the Commentaries.) Whether this "night journey" of the prophet be considered a dream, a vision, or, as most Moslems hold, a physical reality, is of minor importance. The Koran and orthodox Tradition leave no doubt that Mohammed gave out this idea himself, and often stated that he had conversation with the angels and the prophets, as well as with God Himself in Paradise.1
The account of this "night journey," as given in the Tradition and widely believed, is both puerile and blasphemous. Nor does the story add anything to the sum total of theological ideas as given in the Koran. Mohammed's account of heaven is borrowed from the Talmud. We conclude, therefore, that Mohammedan monotheism, granting all that can be said in its favor, lacks four elements which are present
1 See Muir's Mahomet, Vol. II., p. 221. Sprenger calls the story "an unblushing forgery" on the part of Mohammed.
not only in the Christian idea of the Godhead, but in the Old Testament as well: (1) There is no Fatherhood of God. We have seen how their initial conception of theology is a bar to any possible filial relation on man's part toward Deity. The Moslem's fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. Allah produces on them a servile, not a filial, fear. No one approaches God except as a slave. Hegel's criticism, at the head of this chapter, shows the opinion of a philosopher on the elementary character of such monotheism. Where there is no Fatherhood toward man there can be no Brotherhood of Man. Islam is an exclusive brotherhood of believers, not an inclusive brotherhood of humanity. Assuredly, this characteristic of Islam is responsible for much of its fanatic spirit and its gigantic pride. The denial of God's Fatherhood changes Him into a desolate abstraction. Who can love Ghazzali's definition of Allah or feel drawn to such a negative conception? The very contemplation of so barren a Deity "pours an ice-floe over the tide of human trusts and causes us to feel that we are orphaned children in a homeless world."
(2) The Moslem idea of God is conspicuously lacking in the attribute of love. We have seen this in our study of Allah's names. But in gathering up the few precious fragments of this idea from the Koran another thing is evident. Whatever Mohammed taught concerning God's mercy, loving kindness
or goodness has reference only and wholly to what God is external to Himself. In the Bible, love is not a mere attribute of Deity. God is love. God's love not only shines forth from Genesis to the Book of the Revelation, but it is often declared to have existed from all eternity. (Jer. 31:3; John 3:16; 17:24; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8.) Fairbairn remarks: "The love which the Godhead makes immanent and essential to God gives God an altogether new meaning and actuality for religion; while thought is not forced to conceive monotheism as the apotheosis of an Almighty will or an impersonal idea of the pure reason."
Moslem mysticism was a revolt against the orthodox doctrine of Allah. The human heart craves a God who loves; a personal God who has close relations with humanity; a living God who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities and who hears and answers prayer. Such a God the Koran does not reveal. A being who is incapable of loving is also incapable of being loved. And the most remarkable testimony to this lack in the orthodox Moslem conception of Deity is the fact that the passionate devotional poetry of the Sufis is put down as rank heresy. Allah is too rich and too proud and too independent to need or desire the tribute of human love. In consequence Islam is a loveless creed. The Bible teaching that "God is love" is to the learned blasphemy and to the ignorant an enigma. Orthodox Islam is
a religion without song. Where are there any psalms of devotion or hymns of spiritual aspiration in the Koran or the volumes of Tradition?
There is no precept nor example in Islam enjoining love to one's enemies. It knows nothing of universal benevolence or of a humane tolerance. (Surah 9:29.) That the element of love is lacking in their idea of God is perhaps the reason also why the Koran, in contrast with the Bible, has so little for and about children. Of such is not the kingdom of Mohammed.
(3) Allah is not absolutely, unchangeably and eternally just. It is possible, as some allege, that the Western Church may have emphasized the forensic aspect of God's holiness and righteousness unduly and to excess. But the Bible and the human conscience in all ages also emphasize this truth. It is found in the Greek theism. The Bible is not alone in stating that the Judge of all the earth must do right. Justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne. It is impossible for God to lie. He will in nowise clear the guilty. The soul that sinneth it shall die. The awful spectacle of Calvary can only be explained in the terms of Divine justice and Divine love. It was, in the words of Paul, "to declare His righteousness; that He might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."
Now since Islam, as we have seen, denies the doctrine of the atonement and minimizes the heinousness of sin, it is not surprising that the justice of God
is not strongly insisted on and often presented in a weak or distorted way. As Hauri says: "Neither in his holiness nor in his love is Allah righteous. As regards the wicked His love does not receive its due; he is quick to punish, to lead astray and to harden; His wrath is not free from passion. As regards believers, it is holiness comes short of its right. Allah allows his prophets things otherwise forbidden and wrong. Even ordinary believers are allowed to do what is really not right because they are believers. For example, the prophet said: ‘It is better not to have slave-concubines, but Allah is merciful and clement.’"1
In Islam, God's law is not the expression of His moral nature, but of his arbitrary will. His word can be abrogated. His commandments are subject to change and improvement. A testimony to this on the part of Moslems themselves is found in their eager attempts to prove that all the prophets were sinless; i.e., that their transgressions of the moral law as recorded in the Koran were not really sins, but that they were permitted these slight faults or committed them in forgetfulness. The greatest feats of exegesis in this line are found in Ar-Razi's Commentary on the verses that tell of Adam's sin, David's adultery and Mohammed's prayers for pardon. (Surahs 7:10-17; 38:20-24 and 47:20, 21.) All the laws of logic
1 Der Islam, p. 45. The Koran offers other examples of such clemency! Cf. Surahs 2:225; 5:91, etc.
and etymology are broken to avoid the natural inference that these "prophets" were guilty sinners. Those who desire to know how far even Indian Moslems go in defence of this untenable position must read the pamphlet of James Munro, Esq., on the recent Zanb Controversy in Bengal and the Punjab.1 It is evident that this desire to justify "the prophets" is nothing else than a practical lowering of the standard of ethics. What Adam or David or Mohammed did may appear to be sinful, but it really was not. God is merciful and clement.
(4) There is a lack of harmony in Allah's attributes. Raymund Lull (1315), the first missionary to Moslems, pointed out this weakness in the monotheism of Islam. He puts forward this proposition: "Every wise man must acknowledge that to be the true religion which ascribes the greatest perfection to the Supreme Being, and not only conveys the conception worthiest of all His attributes, but demonstrates the harmony and equality existing between them. Now their religion [i.e., Islam] was defective in acknowledging only two active principles in the Deity, His will and His wisdom, while it left His goodness and greatness inoperative, as though they were indolent qualities and not called forth into active exercise. But the Christian religion could not be charged with this defect. In its doctrine of the Trinity, it conveys the highest conception of the
1 Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta.
Deity as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in one simple essence. In the Incarnation of the Son it evinces the harmony that exists between God's goodness and His greatness; and in the person of Christ displays the true union of the Creator and the creature while in His Passion it sets forth the divine harmony of infinite goodness and condescension."1
These words are as true to-day as they were when addressed to the Moslems of North Africa in the Middle Ages. In Islam's theology, mercy and truth do not meet together; righteousness and peace have never kissed each other. The only way in which Allah pardons a sinner is by abrogating His law or passing over guilt without a penalty. There is no Substitute, no Mediator, no Atonement. And therefore, the law-of-the-letter, with all its terror, and the physical hell, ever yawning for its victims, subject Moslems to the bondage of fear unless formalism has petrified their consciences.
"The distinguishing characteristic of Christianity" says Schiller, "by which it is differentiated from all other monotheistic systems, lies in the fact that it does away with the law - the Kantian imperative - and in place of it gives a free and spontaneous inclination of the heart."2 The law is not abolished, but fulfilled in Christ. He blotted out "the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was
1 Raymund Lull's Liber Contemplationis in Deo, liv., 25-28.
2 Quoted in Shedd's Hist. of Doctrine, Vol. I., p. 221.
contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross." That cross of Christ is the missing link in the Moslem's creed. Without the doctrine of the Cross there is no possible unity in the doctrine of the divine attributes; for the mystery of redemption is the key to all other mysteries of theology.
We must go a step further. Not only is the Moslem idea of God lacking in these four important and essential ideas of Christian theology, but its insufficiency is most of all evident from its results. The influence of such teaching regarding God and His relation to the world is apparent everywhere in Moslem lands, but especially in Arabia. The present intellectual, social and moral condition of Arabia must be due to the power (or the impotence) of Islam, for no other intellectual or religious force has touched the peninsula for centuries. Islam has had undisputed possession of Arabia almost since its birth. Here, too, the reformation of Islam under the Wahabis exercised its full power. In other lands, such as Syria and Egypt, it remained in contact with a corrupt form of Christianity, or, as in India and China, in conflict with cultured paganism; and there is no doubt that in both cases there were (and are today) mutual concessions and influences. But on its native Arabian soil the tree planted by the prophet has grown with wild freedom and brought forth fruit after its kind.
As regards morality, Arabia is on a low plane.
Slavery and concubinage exist everywhere. Polygamy and divorce are common. The conscience is petrified; legality is the highest form of worship; virtue is to be like the prophet. The Arabic language has no every-day word for conscience and the present book-term does not even occur in the Koran. Intellectually, there has been little progress. The Bedouins are nearly all illiterate and book-learning in the towns is compressed into the mould of Koran philosophy. Arabia has no unity except of intolerance and suspicion. Fatalism has paralysed progress. Injustice is stoically accepted and the bulk of the people are passive. No man bears another man's burden and there is no public spirit. Treachery and murder are the steps to petty thrones in free Arabia, and in the Turkish provinces justice is sold to the highest bidder. Cruelty is common. Lying is a fine art and robbery a science. Islam has made the hospitable Arab hostile to Christians and wary of strangers. If Mohammedan monotheism had in it the elements of salvation and progress for its devotees, surely Arabia would have witnessed the result. For thirteen hundred years the experiment has been tried - and, by the witness of all travellers, it has piteously failed.
A stream can rise no higher than its source. Islam has no lofty conception of ethics and of holiness like that of the Christian religion. Mohammed's life soon became the standard of morality for all Moslems. In
the Koran he is human; in tradition he becomes sinless and almost divine. To be as good as Mohammed is the ideal of the Moslem. Christ rises higher: "Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Paul's command "to be imitators of God as dear children," is to the orthodox Moslem a double blasphemy. Allah can neither be imitated nor have children. He is unique and nothing can be like Him.
Martensen points out the importance which faith in the Triune God has for ethics (Christian Ethics, Vol. I., pp. 65-75), and concludes: "If, therefore, Christian dogmatics had not asserted and developed the doctrine of the Trinity, ethics must postulate it in its own interests." All church history shows that a genuine and even a scientific knowledge of God has been better maintained with the doctrine of the Trinity than without it. A knowledge of God as full as we need, as full as He Himself intended we should have, is impossible without the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. So-called pure monotheism has always degenerated into some form of pantheism, whether among Jews, Mohammedans or in Christendom.
Finally, it is evident from our study that the Moslem doctrine of God is sterile. It has neither grown nor been fruitful of new ideas in all the history of Islam. The sheikhs of Al Azhar in Cairo, in the twentieth century, are still content with the definition of Al Ghazzali. On the contrary, the Christian
doctrine of the Godhead beginning with the Old Testament revelation of Jehovah, interpreted in the fullness of time by the Incarnation, developed by the Holy Spirit's teaching through the apostles and systematized in the conflict with heresies and philosophies, is even to-day a growing concept and a fruitful idea. "Let any one trace the course of thinking by the theological mind upon the doctrine of the Trinity, and perceive how link follows link by necessary consequence; how the objections of the heretic or the latitudinarian only elicit a more exhaustive, and at the same time more guarded statement, which carries the Church still nearer to the substance of revelation and the heart of the mystery; how, in short, the trinitarian dogma, like the Christian life itself, as described by the apostle, 'being fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, maketh increase unto the edifying of itself' into a grand architectural structure - let this process from beginning to end pass before a thinking and logical mind, and it will be difficult for it to resist the conviction that here is science, here is self-consistent and absolute truth."1
Islam is proud to write on its banner, the Unity of God; but it is, after all, a banner to the Unknown God. Christianity enters every land under the standard of the Holy Trinity - the Godhead of Revelation. These two banners represent two armies.
1 Shedd's Hist. of Doctrine, Vol. I., p. 4.
There is no peace between them. No parliament of religions can reconcile such fundamental and deep-rooted differences. We must conquer or be vanquished. In its origin, history, present attitude and by the very first article of its brief creed, Islam is anti-Christian. But that does not mean that the battle is hopeless. Christian monotheism is as superior to Mohammedan monotheism as Christ is superior to Mohammed. There is no god but the Godhead. Islam itself is beginning to realize the strength of the Christian idea of God, and our chief prayer for the Moslem world should be that they may know the Only True God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. When the great Mohammedan world acknowledges the Fatherhood of God they will also understand the brotherhood of men and the mystery of Calvary.
BACK TO TABLE OF CONTENTS