A Muslim Looks at Muhammad and Jesus
The Story of Abdul Saleeb
My name is "Abdul Saleeb." I was born and raised in a Muslim country in the Middle East. Even though I lived in a very conservative Muslim society, I grew up in a somewhat of a liberal Muslim family. Furthermore, my Muslim upbringing was unique due to my mother's serious involvement in Islamic sufism. So I can honestly confess that I have had first-hand experience of every aspect of contemporary Islamic movements. I personally did not consider myself very religious. At one point I even turned to Marxist ideologies thinking that they could provide real solutions to my country's social ills. However, throughout all this time I never doubted the fundamentals of my religious faith. I thought of Islam as a faith with such high ideals that I did not consider myself worthy of the name Muslim but I wholeheartedly believed that Islam was God's last and most perfect religion for all mankind, based on God's final revelation, the Qur'an, and the prophet Muhammad, God's seal of prophethood. My view of other religions (especially Judaism and Christianity) was that although they were fundamentally the same since they had all been revealed by one God, they were all inferior to Islam because all of them had to various degrees corrupted the original message of their founding prophets, something that we as Muslims have not done.
My religious views were radically challenged when I left my country because of its civil turmoil and went to Europe for the continuation of my studies. By the providence of God and because of various circumstances, I ended up enrolling in an International Christian School.
A question I once asked my teacher revolutionized my worldview. I asked, "How come your word of God says one thing and our word of God says something different?" My teacher, not knowing much about Islam at all, gently asked, "How do you know the Qur'an is the word of God?" I was taken aback by that response. I had lived in a world in which everyone simply presupposed that the Qur'an was dictated word for word by God to the Prophet Muhammad and no one ever questioned that assumption. That brief encounter forced me to start on a journey, engage my Christian friends in hours of cordial discussion and debate about the truthfulness of the Christian faith.
Like almost any other Muslim, my original reaction to the claims of Christians about Jesus Christ was that of utter shock. These claims not only seemed like plain blasphemy but also quite nonsensical. How could any rational being believe such things about an honored prophet of God? Despite my fundamental theological differences with my friends, there was something about their life and faith that impressed me a great deal. There was a sincerity in their relationship with God and with other people that I had not encountered. So I would often tell them that I did not want to deny their faith but I just wanted to find a compromise so that I could hold to the truth of Islam and they could continue to hold to their faith. However, I was in no doubt that their belief about Jesus was based on statements that the prophet Jesus had never actually claimed for himself. My difficulty in understanding Christian belief was very much along the lines that have historically separated Islam from Christianity.
I did not grant in any way that the Bible, especially the New Testament documents, were reliable when it came to reporting the words of Christ. Anything in the Bible that disagreed with the Qur'an was automatically rejected as being a corrupt teaching in the Bible. My spiritual journey went on for months. Oftentimes I did find comfort in the Qur'an, but I was encountering more questions in that book than answers. For example, the violent tone of many of the Qur'anic passages (especially against the unbelievers but also against the Jewish and Christian people) began to bother me, when compared with the emphasis on love in the New Testament. One particular passage that troubled me, especially in light of my good friendship with many Christians, was in Sura 5:51."O ye who believe! Take not Jews and Christians for your friends and protectors; they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily God guideth not a people unjust."
However, the most troubling section of the Qur'an had to do with the character of the prophet Muhammad himself. According to Sura 33:37, God sanctions Muhammad's desire to marry the divorced wife of his own stepson, "in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And God's command must be fulfilled."
I vivdly remember the first time that I came across that verse in my study of the Qur'an. I began to sob with great sorrow and shame. All my life I had been told that Muhammad was the most perfect and ideal moral example for mankind and yet the Qur'an had a good number of examples of how the "revelations" could be so self-serving to the prophet himself!
I immediately wrote a letter to my mother back home with some of these troubling questions that I was encountering. The response that I received to my letter from one of the most prominent religious leaders in my country was that I should just continue my secular studies and not focus too much on religion. On the other hand, as my understanding of the Bible was increasing many of my questions were beginning to get answered.
Even as a Muslim I came to believe that the crucifixion of Christ was an undisputable historical fact that no honest person that deals with evidences of history could deny.
The character of Christ himself, as manifested for example in his beautiful Sermon on the Mount, was gradually making a great impression on me. But for me the most impressive factor about Christ was the multitude of Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. Some of these prophecies were so specific and they were fulfilled in the life of Jesus to such a detail that it amazed me to see how God had taken hundreds of years of Jewish history to prepare the coming of the Messiah; prophecies ranging from Messiah's ancestery, his manner and place of birth, his life and ministry to the circumstances surrounding his death by crucifixion. I was very attracted to Christ and yet I could not deny my own tradition and past. Becoming Christian seemed a definite betrayal of my own family and Islamic heritage. The tension in my life was so strong that I felt torn asunder between these two faiths.
But I still could not bring myself to accept that Jesus was anything more than a human being. Since he had never explicitly said, "I am God and you must worship me," the Christian claim about Jesus was based on speculation and historically unreliable Gospels. Surely the incredible statements attributed to Jesus were invented by later Christians and put in the mouth of Jesus.
In the midst of all this anxiety of thought, I woke up one morning and was suddenly struck by the meaning of a verse written by the prophet Isaiah in his ninth chapter. I had read this verse several weeks prior to that morning, but I had never understood its meaning. In Isaiah 7:14 we read,"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."
Isaiah then goes on to write in chapter 9,"[...] in the future he (God) will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan the people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned [...] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne [...] from that time on and forever."
I could not believe it! The fact that the Messiah was not going to be just a prophet but Mighty God himself, was therefore a truth that had been prophesied seven hundred years before Christ in the Old Testament, and not something that had been made up by Christians many years or centuries after Christ! It was God's own promise that he will come in flesh (Immanuel = God with us) and will establish a kingdom that will last forever.
I came to trust in Christ, the next day on January 20, 1985. I cried uncontrollably as I was praying and turning to Christ in faith. I did not know why, and though I had never felt much burden of guilt, I was feeling a great sense of peace and relief from the burden of my sins. A greater satisfaction was the sense of rest in finally finding the truth about God and His revelation of love to mankind in Jesus Christ. A book that helped me (and several other Muslim friends of mine who became Christians around the same time that I did) tremendously in answering many of my questions about the deity of Christ and the reliability of the New Testament documents was Josh McDowell's "Evidence That Demands A Verdict." I highly recommend it.
Soon after my own conversion, I decided to dedicate my entire life to promoting the Good News of Christ among Muslims and especially the people of my own country. I later came to the United States and received my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biblical and Theological Studies. I also co-authored a book called Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross.
Abdul Saleeb, Ramadan of 1996
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