Monday, March 22, 2010

A Message for Muslims: Mary is Not Divine

The true God who creates, sustains and judges all that exists, must be a very awesome Being. When we think about Him, we feel utterly dwarfed and insignificant. We cannot grasp the reality of one we cannot touch, see, hear or feel. Our hearts do not know how to search for One Who was, is and always will be, here and everywhere.

Therefore, although we know God exists, we tend to focus our attention, admiration, honor, respect and praise on people or things we can see, touch, understand and at least partially influence and control. Frequently, we choose people who seem to be close to God. Their suggestions become our guides for living. We value their prayers for us because we believe they have a greater influence on God. We feel secure because of them. Sometimes our Imam or priest or pastor is such a person. Or maybe we choose an especially saintly relative or friend instead. Sometimes we focus on a dead loved one whom we believe lives in God’s presence and can influence God on our behalf.

While this attitude may seem innocent enough, it is possible that this person we choose not only becomes a pathway to God for us, but a reflection of God Himself. This is wrong. It is blasphemy and idolatry.

Nevertheless, Jesus’ mother, Mary, has received such veneration. Even today, some people offer prayers to Mary, burn candles or incense in front of her statues and ask her to intercede to her son, Jesus, in their behalf. People will travel across the world to visit places where she is believed to have appeared. Shrines are built to her and people claim that she heals their sicknesses when they worship at these shrines.

In the times when the messages of the Qur’an were being revealed, such Christian heresies were in existence. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Qur’an condemns such elevation of Mary.

According to the Qur’an, Mary had no divine qualities. She drank, ate, and slept like all people do. (Sura 5:75) When it was God’s time for her to expire, she died. She had a particularly painful time at the birth of Jesus. (Sura 19:22-26) She did not have sex with God to conceive Jesus. Mary must not be considered divine, nor a consort for God, nor part of a trinity composed of God, Mary and Jesus. (Sura 19:35; 5:76-78) Such activity would have been improper for God, and it belittles and blasphemes Him to even suggest such ideas. (Sura 19:35; 4:171)

Clearly, the Bible, upon which I base my faith in God, does not elevate or glorify Mary. Apart from the virgin birth of Jesus, Mary is like any other woman who ever lived. She was awed and puzzled about her son, his work and his relationship to God, but was faithful to him. After his ascension into Heaven, she was one of several believers who formed the first church.

Jesus rejected the suggestion that people should praise his mother. He denied that there was anything divine about his human family. (Luke 11:27-28)

The Bible mentions only one time in Mary’s life when she spoke words inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. When she spoke these words, Mary was very humble, not exalting herself in any way, but giving glory, praise and worship to God.

"And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." (Luke 1:46-55)

(The above information is from "Jesus Gives Peace: Jesus In The Qur'an and the Bible," written by Yusuf Abdallah)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Message for Muslims: A Woman’s Place

In many ancient cultures (and in many cultures even today), women knew exactly what their roles were. They were expected to marry, to serve their husbands and to bear and raise children.

In such a culture, women had two primary concerns. First, they were anxious to be chosen to be some man's wife. Women who were not chosen often remained in their parents' home for their entire life. Second, they were anxious about whether or not they could have children. When a married woman was barren, she felt unfulfilled and less than other women. She was often pitied and disdained. Her husband might divorce her. If such a woman were desperate enough, she might even choose the self-defeating life of being a prostitute. In that way, she might feel a temporary sense of worth.

What happens when God begins to act in such a culture? God’s ways are not our ways. He values women as individual persons, regardless of the roles society gives them. In each society where God's word is honored, the status of women is elevated. Some women have been given a very special role in God's plan for mankind.

One woman in particular stood out in religious history as a unique person, specially chosen by God for a very important task. Her culture might easily have ignored or pitied her. She was unmarried. Like other women of their day, she was illiterate, with no hope and no desire for advancement. Her family was of no importance. She was neither famous nor rich . Yet God chose her to have a central place in His plan. That woman’s name was Mary.

According to the Qur'an, Mary was so important in God's eyes that the angels argued about who would have the privilege of guarding and caring for her. They chose the winner by casting lots.

"This is part of the tidings of the things unseen which We reveal unto you by inspiration, you were not with them when they cast lots with arrows as to which of them should be charged with the care of Mary, nor were you with them when they disputed." (Sura 3:44)

The angels informed Mary that God had honored her, choosing her from among other women, purifying her. In the Qur'an, we read that an angel told Mary that she would bear a very special son, whose name would be Christ Jesus (Isa al Masih, or Jesus the Messiah---"Messiah" means “the anointed one”).

The angel described Jesus. God Himself would teach him. He would be honored in this world and the next. He would be among those nearest to God. He would be a prophet, giving his message both as a child and as an adult. He would be righteous. He is God's Word, a Spirit sent from God and an apostle to the children of Israel.

"Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee- chosen thee above the women of all nations. "O Mary! worship Thy Lord devoutly: Prostrate thyself, and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down." This is part of the tidings of the things unseen, which We reveal unto thee (O Apostle!) by inspiration: Thou wast not with them when they cast lots with arrows, as to which of them should be charged with the care of Mary: Nor wast thou with them when they disputed (the point). Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah; "He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous." (Sura 3:42-46)

(See also Sura 19 for details of Mary's trip into the wilderness, the appearance of the angel, etc.)

Mary asked the angel how she could have a son, since a man had never touched her. The answer was that God would create the son as He had created Adam, an easy thing for God to do.

God often chooses unmarried, childless women for special roles in His plan for mankind. Their destiny was selected for them just as Mary's was. Some of the world’s greatest scientists, politicians, doctors and social workers have been women. Consider Madam Curie, Mother Teresa and others.

Because God respects, honors and often chooses women for special places in His world's history, His true prophets must also honor women and teach others to do so. Mary's son, Jesus, certainly did. As he is revealed in the Bible, Jesus held women in high regard, no matter what their status in society. He was even kind to the adulteress and the prostitute. Their downfall was partly caused by the negative way others thought of them.

Once, while Jesus was teaching in the temple, some religious leaders brought a disheveled woman to him, accusing her of adultery and demanding that she be stoned to death, as the law required. Jesus calmly told them:

"Let any one of you who is without sin be the first a throw a stone at her." Being convicted of their own sins, her accusers left the woman alone with Jesus. Jesus told her, "God now, and leave your life of sin." (John 8:4-11)

The value of each woman is raised, and she is given dignity by Jesus' words. If you are a woman, whether you are unmarried or married, fertile or barren, God places a high value on you. You deserve respect and honor. You are a woman!

The Bible expresses the words the angel used when he spoke to Mary:

"Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

The angel described the son Mary would bear in this way:

"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High." (Luke 1:28-32)

In gratitude for God's favor, Mary sang:

"My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me - holy is his name." (Luke 1:46-49)

When Mary's kinswoman, Elizabeth, received Mary into her home for a visit, her first words were:

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!" (Luke 1:42)

Like Elizabeth, all of us can rejoice that God chooses to use humble women in His world for His purposes. Women have a very important place in God's world.

(This information is from the book, “Jesus Gives Peace: Jesus in the Qur’an and the Bible,” by Yusuf Abdallah)

Also see:

Comparing Islam to Christianity, Part 7 (The Role of Women)
Islam and Women
Oppression of Women

Monday, March 8, 2010

Comparing Islam to Christianity, Part 8

Muslims understand religion as a whole and integrated way of life. Secular, Christian-influenced cultures can confuse and even anger Muslims who see things through their holistic worldview. They often view “Hollywood sexuality” as “Christian,” or a military action as a “Crusade.” To them, the cross is a military symbol.

The Islamic Community

In Islam, brotherhood and consensus is emphasized, and individualism is avoided. The “community of the faithful” is responsible to enforce the moral code. This can explain how a lone Muslim, outside a community support structure, does not feel as guilty when breaking the code. However, bringing shame on his family or community would be a great sin.

Avoiding shame and protecting honor are primary motivations of most Muslims. Shame and honor are community-related, as contrasted to an individual sense of guilt.

Radical Muslims, known as Islamists or Jihadists, use this sense of community honor and shame to recruit and motivate their followers.

What Christians Believe

Followers of Jesus believe that they are to impact culture for Christ by going into all parts of the world to bring the message of Jesus to the people that live there (Matthew 28:19-20). In the West, a division exists between culture and religion. Religion is separated from government, and some people object to any influence of religion on state institutions and symbols.

Community in the West

Followers of Jesus do influence Western culture and institutions, but they seem to be a shrinking influence. Western culture affirms individualism and some people avoid community responsibility. Tolerance of sin and unbiblical practices continue to dilute the true Christians message; evolutionism and atheism also continue to influence the increasingly secular West. Only a minority of those in the West consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ. Most simply consider themselves Christian by name only, and do not follow the teaching of the Bible, of which they are largely ignorant. Generally, Western culture does not have a sense of the “community of the faithful.”

The Misunderstandings

In June, 2003, Time magazine ran a cover article asking the question: “Should Christians Convert Muslims?” The artwork featured a militant-looking clenched fist holding a metal cross, reminiscent of a Crusader’s sword. This imagery correctly symbolizes some typical Muslim misunderstandings, especially when viewed with the cigarette advertisement on the back cover. The advertisement features a sensual goddess-like model with men fawning at her feet. These pictures display some fears of Muslims: to be dominated militarily and corrupted morally by “Christianity.”

Correcting the Misunderstandings

The challenge is to present a correct view of the cross. Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ” has been seen by Muslims all over the world. They have seen the cross as a symbol of suffering, not as a military or political icon. Followers of Jesus, through their words and actions, are called to show Muslims that God loves all people so much that Jesus died on the cross. He also defeated Satan and death by rising from the grave. Jesus made it possible for all of God’s children to live with Him forever. This “good news” should be attractive to Muslims.

The above information is from "Islam & Christianity" by Rose Publishing

For more info, see: Islam vs Christianity - Comparison Charts