Articles

Little Theology: Righteous by Works Alone (1)

This article first appeared in the Standard Bearer, for original source link click here

Mr. Kalsbeek is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan. Previous article in this series: November 15, p, 85.

"And the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment."

I Chronicles 12:32

In 1938, when Islam was weaker than ever before, the Catholic writer Hillaire Belloc predicted it would rise again to threaten the West. At the time, the state of Israel did not exist. What Belloc understood is that Muslims need no provocation to wage jihad against non-Muslims. Injustices on the part of the West may have added fuel to the fire, but the flame was lit by Muhammad and his Qu'ran.

For the Muslim, jihad (religious fighting) is very important, but even more important is believing in Allah and his prophet. Proverbs 4:23 informs us that out of the heart "are the issues of life." Thus, for modern-day Issachar to understand these perilous times and the role of Islam in them, we must examine a little bit of the heart, the belief system, of Islam.

The Basis

The basis of Islam is its "Scripture," the Qu'ran. In the Qu'ran a good Muslim will find all that he needs to know to please Allah, and Allah will be pleased with those who follow to the letter the Qu'ran's teachings.

But before we delve into some of those teachings, we ought briefly to consider the origin of the Qu'ran. What we find in the Qu'ran are the words that the Angel Gabriel is supposed to have spoken to Muhammad over a period of some twenty-three years. Since Muhammad was illiterate, these revelations of the Angel Gabriel had to be written down by others. This was done by Muhammad's scribes as he would recite what Gabriel had said to him. Shortly after Muhammad's death these writings were collected and put together in a book about the size of the New Testament.

It should be understood that, while the Angel Gabriel was the means by which the Qu'ran was given to Muhammad, the Qu'ran itself is, to a Muslim, the Word of Allah. By making that claim, Muslims do not

mean the same thing that Christians and Jews mean when they say the Bible is the Word of God. The traditional (and still nearly universal) Muslim understanding of the Qu'ran is far beyond the Biblical idea that God inspired human authors. Allah dictated every word of the Qu'ran to the prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. Allah Himself is the only speaker throughout the Qu'ran, and most often he addresses Muhammad, frequently telling him what to say to various adversaries.1

The arrangement of these writings is a bit unusual. "Those who assembled the Qu'ran did not know the chronological order in which the suras (chapters, ck) came down. They opted for the format found in current interpretations: The 114 chapters begin with the longest and end with the shortest."2 Understandably, this arrangement results in a rather disorganized set of writings, with little if any continuity whatsoever.

Consequently, reading the Qu'ran is often like walking in on the conversation between two people with whom one is only slightly acquainted. Frequently they make reference to people and events without bothering to explain what is going on. In other words the context is often not supplied. Wishing, perhaps, to fill this gap, early in Islamic history Muslims elaborated two principal sources for that context: tafsir (commentary on the Qu'ran) and hadith, traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.3

It should be noted further that the Qu'ran and the Bible have much in common. In fact, much of the Qu'ran is dependent upon the Bible.

With the exception of a few narratives purely Arabian in origin, all Qu'ranic stories have their biblical parallel. The many discrepancies between biblical and Qu'ranic accounts indicate that Muhammad was less concerned with the details of the event and more concerned with the moral underlying them. He cited such narratives not to preserve them in the Qu'ran for their own sake, but rather to support a point he wished to emphasize.4

Nevertheless, the Muslim attitude toward the Bible is one of reverence. Sura 3:84 of the Qu'ran states: "Say, We believe in Allah and that which hath been sent down to us, and that which was sent down to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which was delivered to Moses, and Jesus, and the prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them; and to him we are resigned."5 Where discrepancies between the Bible and the Qu'ran occur, Muhammad concluded that in those instances the Bible must have been altered. Clearly Muhammad plagiarized and manipulated the teachings of the Bible to serve his purposes.

Qu'ranic Inconsistencies

While Muhammad found fault with the Scriptures, the Qu'ran has its own problems, one of which is that contradictions occur. These discrepancies most often are found when comparing Muhammad's early revelations (Meccan suras) with his later ones (Medinan Suras). Robert Spencer explains the difference as follows:

The Meccan suras date from the early period of the Prophet's career, when he concentrated on calling people to accept his new faith. In the year 622, Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina to escape the growing hostility of the pagans in his native city; this was the Hegira, the event that marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. In Medina, he became a head of state and a military leader for the first time.6

Obviously Muhammad's attitude toward those who rejected his new religion changed. During the Meccan period, he appeared to be conciliatory in order to gain converts from Judaism and the pagans that worshiped in Mecca. However, once he became the dominating force in the area, his attitude toward "unbelievers" changed significantly, as the Medinan suras reveal.

This distinction between Meccan and Medinan suras becomes important because of the Muslim doctrine of abrogation. "Abrogation is the Islamic doctrine that Allah modifies and even cancels certain directives, replacing them with others."7 This doctrine is to be taken very seriously because it is grounded in the Qu'ran: "None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?" (Sura 2:106). While Muslim theologians disagree concerning which verses have been abrogated and which others have replaced them, they generally agree that when inconsistencies occur between Meccan and Medinan suras, the Meccan has been abrogated and replaced by the Medinan one.

This is especially important when one considers Muhammad's teachings about jihad. Muslims will often point to the Meccan suras to demonstrate that Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion. The problem is that the Qu'ran's last word on jihad, which is of Medinan origin, is very intolerant. Therefore, according to Islamic exegesis, the tolerant verses must be read in light of the intolerant ones.

The Five Pillars of Islam

The teachings of the Qu'ran also include the five demands made upon the believers in Islam. They are known as The Five Pillars of Islam. These works of righteousness are critical for Muslims. None of their other works will be acceptable to Allah if these are not first satisfied. Further, these five pillars are the main unifying force of Islam. They are:

1. The Creed. "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet." It is mandatory that during his lifetime each Muslim must say this creed at least once correctly and with heartfelt conviction. In practice, however, the devout Muslim speaks it many times a day. In this creed the Muslim not only states his belief, but he sounds forth his evangelistic call to Jew and Christian to turn away from the "near-idolatry" of the Torah and the "idolatry" of Christ.

2. The Ritual Prayer. Prayers are to be said five times daily, upon rising, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset, and before retiring. The prayers consist of set formulas with prescribed bowings and prostration. In addition to the primary purposes of praise and supplication, the prayers serve two other purposes in the faith of the Muslim. According to the Qu'ran, the most difficult lesson for man to learn is that he is not God; the prayers keep man humble before Allah. Secondly, the set times for prayer create for the Muslim a sense of participation in a worldwide fellowship, even if he is isolated from other Muslims.

3. Almsgiving. The required almsgiving is separate and distinct from voluntary alms, and is set at 1/40 (2 ½ %) of all that a man possesses, that is, his holdings rather than just his income. The Muslim distributes his alms where he sees the most direct need—to debtors unable to meet their obligations, to slaves who are buying their freedom, to transients, and to the desperately needy.

4. Fasting. Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink and sexual intercourse from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. Since Islam employs a lunar calendar, the month rotates through all seasons. When Ramadan falls in the scorching days of summer, the longer days without a drop of water can become an ordeal. Such fasting, the Muslim believes, teaches self-discipline and aids in the curbing of appetites also at other times.

5. The Pilgrimage to Mecca. It is obligatory for every Muslim during his lifetime to make a pilgrimage to Mecca if he can possibly do so. The pilgrimage is a scheduled event each year and includes special ceremonies en route and a visit to Muhammad's tomb at Medina. The purpose of the pilgrimage is said to be a reminder of the equality of all men and the devotion that all owe to Allah.8

Other Significant Teachings

In addition to its "Five Pillars," the Qu'ran teaches that in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve sinned, then repented and were forgiven. However, their sin bore no consequences. In fact, it almost seems that Adam's sin is rewarded, because, following Adam's sin, Allah makes him his deputy (caliph) and the first of the prophets. Clearly, Islam does not acknowledge original sin.

Also, "Muslims have a tendency to revere strong leaders who put forth an image of perfection."9 Muslims believe that people with a strong character can live sinless lives by following their plethora of rules. And do they ever have rules! They have rules to cover everything, from where you can go to the bathroom to how you may kill insects. There is even a rule that forbids reading the "Qu'ran in a house where there is a dog, unless the dog is used for hunting, farming, or herding livestock."10

And what does the Qu'ran do with Christ? Islam respects Christ as one of about 124,000 messengers of Allah. In fact, He is

one of the 25 listed in the Qu'ran. Jesus is right there in the list with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Zechariah, John, three others not cited in the Bible, and Muhammad. But Muslims do not believe Jesus died when crucified. They do not believe he was resurrected. They do not see him as God.11

Since man has no original sin and is basically good, he is able sincerely to repent when he makes a mistake. Allah will then return him to a state of sinlessness, with no outside help needed. As expressed in the Qu'ran, "for him whose measure (of good deeds) is heavy, those are they who shall be successful (Sura 7:8-9)."

These beliefs and their consequences are succinctly expressed as follows:

The Muslim's watered-down understanding of sin makes the Islamic belief in salvation by works plausible. People do not have original sin, especially no inherited guilt. Morally, a person is born as a blank book, more good than evil. What people need to be saved is moral guidance not rebirth. Sin is forgiven when evil is balanced by enough good. To help us achieve the correct balance God may even charge us less than our sins deserve and he may give us extra credit for our good.... On the one hand, this makes it possible for the Muslim to say, "It feels good to know you are accomplishing your salvation." On the other hand, a Muslim can never feel sure of his salvation; because he can never be sure that he has been credited with more good than evil.12

Interestingly, there is one exception to this teaching that one cannot be assured of salvation:

Those who die as martyrs, those who die while waging jihad against enemies of God, will enter paradise instantly, all their sins washed away by their own blood and the blood of the infidels they have shed."13

Righteous by Works Alone

All things considered, in the end Islam has adopted (either intentionally or unintentionally) the Adam of Pelagius and the Christ of Arius. Their theology of man (free from original sin) and Jesus (only a good man) leaves the Muslim to fend for himself when it comes to salvation. How hopeless! Yet, apostatizing Christianity finds in Islam just another way to the same God.

How can this be? It would appear that Islam and Christianity have little (theologically speaking) in common. Closer examination, however, indicates that apostatizing Christianity appears to be gravitating in the direction of Islamic theology. Note the movement, even in evangelical and Reformed circles, to attribute man's salvation to a combined effort of God and man: faith and works is the cry today. The result is a powerless Christ, or at best a Christ with limited power. Issachar beware, "...for one of these two things must be true, either that Jesus is not a complete (emphasis, ck) Savior, or that they who by a true faith receive this Savior must find all (emphasis, ck) things in Him necessary to their salvation" (Heidelberg Catechism, question 30).


1.Robert Spencer, Onward Muslim Soldiers (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2003) p. 127.

2.Thomas C. Pfotenhauer, "Brother Richard Challenges A Great Law/Gospel Debacle: The Quran," Christian News 8 December, 2003: 7.

3.Spencer, p. 127.

4.Philip H. Lochhaas, "The Foundation of Islam," Christian News 15 October, 2001:16.

5.Lochhaas, p. 16.

6.Spencer, p. 134.

7.Spencer, p. 135.

8.Lochhaas, p. 16.

9.Marvin Olasky, "A Cold War for the 21st century," World Nov./ Dec. 2001:14.

10.Olasky, p. 16.

11.Olasky, p. 16.

12.John Brug, "The Menace of Islam," Christian News 6 September, 2004:9.

13.Gene Edward Veith, "Lethal 'gospel,'" World 22 February, 2003: 13.

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