Resurrecting Ibn Taimiyah’s Fallacious Arguments About Christianity
by Louis Palme (November 2012)
Back in the 13th Century, Islamic scholar Ibn Taimiyah wrote a voluminous refutation of Christian positions relative to Islam. A few years ago, that study was translated and reduced to a 406 page book, Answering Those Who Altered the Religion of Jesus Christ. The book is posted in PDF format on the Internet at: http://ahlalhadeeth.wordpress.com/books/authors/ibn-taymiyyah/ This website calls Taimiyah’s book one of the most important Islamic books in print today.
From the 7th Century on, Muslims captured and controlled vast regions occupied by Christians. Very few Christians voluntarily embraced Islam. Those who did usually succumbed to the onerous burdens of jizyah taxation, devshirme, and other discrimination that made life unbearable. (See: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pact-umar.asp ) So Taimiyah tried to address some of the presumed or hypothetical Christian objections to submitting to Islam – a work intended for a sympathetic Muslim audience. The arguments are long and tedious, but set forth below are the principal points made by Taimiyah, along with a 21st Century Christian response.
1. Christians rejected Islam because the Quran is revealed in Arabic, which was not the Christians’ mother tongue. (page 4)
Christians do not consider any one language to be more holy than another. The original New Testament was written in Greek. Some Christian churches have used Greek or Latin because it was a common tongue across their international community, but not because it was the language of God. Today, the New Testament has been translated into over 1,000 languages and dialects, including Arabic. This argument by Taimiyah would have no bearing on either Medieval or 21st Century Christians.
2. Since Muhammad and the Quran praise Christians, there would be no need to follow a different religion. Taimiyah’s rejoinder to this is that Muhammad only praised those who followed an unchanged religion, but he dispraised those who changed the religion of Christ. (page 102)
The Bible was written by men who were inspired by God. There are six complete manuscripts of the New Testament which long pre-date the advent of Islam (http://www.wabashcenter.wabash.edu/syllabi/r/rennie/rel151/mss.htm) plus hundreds of partial texts, and many of those same original documents are the sources for new translations of the Bible. For example the Greek Bible, Codex Sinaiticus (330-360 AD), was at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt prior to the birth of Muhammad, and it is still a principal reference for new Bible translations.
Scholars are continually working to make the language of the translated Bibles not only more faithful to the original Greek, but also more understandable to readers of all languages. That does not mean that the essential message of the Bible has been changed. (By contrast more recent English translations of the Quran gloss over and sometimes actually mistranslate the harsh or embarrassing texts of the Quran.)
If Muhammad once praised the Christians, it was Muhammad who changed, and not the Bible.
3. Since the Quran challenges those who doubt it to verify the Quran with the Torah and the Injil (Surah 10:94), the Quran itself confirms the validity of the Bible. (page 135) The Christian argument in the 13th Century also claimed that, at the time of Muhammad, the Bible had already been translated in to 72 languages, so it would have been impossible to make changes in all of the editions. Taimiyah argued that the Gospel does not contain the words of Jesus, but rather those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Because of this oral transmission of the words of Jesus, this is not a “reliable, authentic transmission from Christ concerning the exact wordings of the Bible.” On the other hand, he says there are authentic, clear chains of transmitters for the Quran and the Sunna, which contain facts known to non-specialized as well as specialized people. (page 147-148)
This argument gets to the heart of the Quran’s ignorance about the New Testament. Surah 5:46 says that God’s gave Jesus the Gospel (Injil) corroborating what was revealed in the Torah. Commentaries on the Quran state that this particular book was lost. Therefore, instead of God’s verbal word, the existing New Testament merely consists of second-hand reports by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of what Jesus preached from that missing God-given Gospel. Furthermore, whereas the words of Muhammad were handed down through a chain of transmission (isnad) during the period of 200 years until the hadith were actually recorded by Bukhari and others, the New Testament somehow is inferior because the accounts of Jesus were merely written by his disciples who were first-hand witnesses to what he said. Taimiyah’s reasoning here is baffling. It should be noted, too, that Quran makes no mention of the remainder of the New Testament which constitutes over half of the content.
The other problem with the Quran is that it contradicts itself regarding the Bible. While Surah 10:94 affirms the Bible, Surah 2:139 claims that that Jews and Christians hid the testimony they received from God, and Surah 2:221 says, “He that tampers with the boon of God after it has been bestowed on him shall be severely punished.” Similarly, Surah 5:13 says, “They have tampered with words out of their context and forgotten much of what they were enjoined.” The New Testament has similar warnings against changing the text, as in Revelation 22:18 and 19. However Taimiyah fails to specify any text of the Bible which has actually been changed.
4. Christians quote Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19 – “Go ye into all the world . . ., preach, . . . and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit . . . .” as confirming the Trinity. Taimiyah argues that Jesus did not mention “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” He offers no proof of his assertion but instead a presents a long denial that God could have Mary for his wife or that God could exist in multiple attributes. (page 188)
This might be called a boot-strap argument because the authority of the Quran is used to dispute the witness of the Gospels. Taimiyah quotes Surah 5:115-116: “Then God will say: ‘Jesus, son of Mary, did you ever say to mankind: “Worship me and my mother as gods besides God?”’ ‘Glory to You,’ he will answer, ‘how could I ever say that to which I have no right? If I had ever said so, You would have surely known it.’” Therefore, because Jesus is quoted in the Quran as denying that he ever spoke of the Trinity, the passage from Matthew must be a fabrication. (Note here that the Trinity in the Quran consists of God, Jesus and Mary.)
Christians believe in one God who has three natures (God the Creator, a human manifestation in the form of Jesus, and a spiritual “Comforter” who is in-dwelling in believers), but to Muslims that is inconceivable. However, Muslims see no problem in praying toward the Black Stone in the Ka’ba, and touching or kissing it twenty-one times when they make their hajj pilgrimage. Such reverence for a piece of rock would be considered idolatry by Christians.
5. Christians quote Quran Surah 37:171 which mentions God’s “Word” to show that the Holy Spirit is recognized in the Quran, a confirmation of the Trinity. But Taimiyah argues that “words” can only be uttered by a living being. Also, the Christian claim ignores the statement in Surah 42:51 that Allah only speaks by inspiration, or from behind the veil, or through a Messenger (like Muhammad). (page 219)
This is another boot-strap argument where the criteria for God’s communication are defined by the Quran and then Taimiyah says that the Bible’s use of the “Word” doesn’t meet those requirements. The Christian statement regarding “the Word” can be found in the first Chapter of John.
6. Christians say that there are two laws – the law of Justice which was provided by Moses, and the law of generosity which could only be provided by a perfect being, Jesus Christ. However, Taimiyah says that Islam establishes a third law which is better because it is a combination of justice and generosity. (page 299) An example of this “third law” from the Quran is Surah 2:280, “And if a debtor is in a hard time (has no money), then grant him time until it is easy for him to pay.”
The Islamic formula for the “third law” is missing the essential ingredient – a means of atonement for the violator of the law. Muhammad was not perfect, and he even doubted his own salvation. Muhammad is quoted as saying, “By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 266) Muhammad also acknowledged that he had no influence over Allah's mercy or salvation:
"Muhammad said, ‘O people of Quraish (or said similar words)! Buy (i.e. save) yourselves (from the Hellfire) as I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment; O Bani Abd Manaf! I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment, O Safiya, the Aunt of Allah's Apostle! I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment; O Fatima bint Muhammad! Ask me anything from my wealth, but I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment.’" (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 51, Number 16)
To what extent, other than the one quotation above about the debtor, does the Quran actually mix mercy with justice? Surah 24:2 imposes an almost lethal 100 lashes for adulterers and adds, “Let no pity for them cause you to disobey God.” The Quran also justifies the poverty that most Muslims must endure by asserting, “Had God bestowed abundance upon His servants, they would have committed much injustice in the land. He gives them what He will in due measure.” (Surah 42:27) So, according to the Quran, showing mercy or generosity would actually cause Muslims to commit injustice.
The Taimiyah book concludes with sixteen prophesies of Muhammad in the Bible, fifteen from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. This is done to substantiate the claim in the Quran, “And [tell] of Jesus the son of Mary who said to the Israelites: ‘I am sent forth to you from God to confirm the Torah already revealed, and to give news of an apostle that will come after me whose name is Ahmad.’” (Surah 61:6) Some of these prophesies are so far-fetched that they border on fantasy. For example, anytime the word “praiseworthy” can be construed from the text, that word had to predict the coming of Muhammad (which in Arabic means praiseworthy). The prophesy from the New Testament about Jesus sending after him a “comforter” (John 14:16) has already been thoroughly demolished by many other writers. Suffice it to say here that Muhammad does not meet the description of the “comforter,” who was described as a spirit which cannot be seen.
It is curious that in the 21st Century clash of civilizations, Islamic apologists have not developed new responses to the rejection of Islam by Christians, but rather, have resurrected the writings of a 13th Century scholar for their arguments.
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