Recently I was asked by Dr. James White to review the content of a lecture presented by Dr. William Lane Craig, a well-known Christian philosopher, which was subsequently broadcast on the Unbelievable radio programme on 29/12/2012. I was astounded by what I heard, to say the least. Therefore, I should probably emphasise now, before commencing my analysis, that I have no ill will towards Dr. Craig. I have not met him before or had any correspondence with him. I have previously listened to some of his audio presentations and think he should be congratulated for his work on presenting the rational arguments for the existence of God. Despite this, I believe his ability to discuss Islam must be found wanting, as I hope you, dear reader, will agree.
To commence his comments on Islam, Dr. Craig proposed that Islam is the only religion to have ‘arisen in conscious rejection of the Christian faith’. Assuming he means in ‘conscious rejection’ of the orthodox Christianity, I wonder what he has to say about Arianism, Gnostic Christianity, Mandaeism, etc.
This proposal, strangely enough, demonstrated best to me the amazingly limited views that Dr. Craig had to offer on the Islamic issues he attempted to discuss. Foremost in these was his analysis of salvation in Islam, which I shall attempt to correct, God willing. In addition, I will also point out a few other errors made by Dr. Craig in the broadcast lecture.
Dr. Craig suggested that Salvation in Islam is deeds based, in contrast to Christianity which is purely based upon the Grace of God. However, he could not possibly be more incorrect. Salvation in Islam is purely by the Grace of God Almighty – deeds are merely an indication of the reception of His Grace. Lets show this from a few simple Islamic sources.
I can only assume that Dr. Craig has missed a verse that must appear very perplexing to him:
وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَكُمْ وَمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
It is God who created you and all your actions (37:96)
The position of Orthodox Islam is that God Almighty is the Creator of all of our actions. This is clearly recognised by the rational mind when one considers the implication of the alternative, i.e. that human beings create their own actions and God, therefore, does not have full control over the affairs of His creation.
How could our deeds be the cause (sabab) of our salvation when we do not create them? Indeed, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad illustrate this point further. In a hadith narrated by both Bukhari and Muslim through several chains, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported to have said:
The Prophet said, “The good deeds of any person will not make him enter Paradise.” (the Prophet’s companions) said, “Not even you, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “Not even myself, unless Allah bestows His favor and mercy on me.” So be moderate in your religious deeds and do the deeds that are within your ability: and none of you should wish for death, for if he is a good doer, he may increase his good deeds, and if he is an evil doer, he may repent to Allah.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 70, Number 577)
The Prophet said, “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and receive good news because one’s good deeds will not make him enter Paradise.” They asked, “Even you, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “Even I, unless and until Allah bestows His pardon and Mercy on me.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 474)
Indeed, many a Christian apologist is well versed with both of these narrations, as they usually attempt to use them to illustrate that the Prophet was ‘uncertain’ of his own salvation or that Islam does not certainly offer salvation.
God Almighty creates all of our actions. When we acquire good deeds, they are ultimately caused by and belong to Him. Moreover, it is God allowing us to complete good deeds through His Providence (Tawfiq) that even presents us with the opportunity to acquire them.
As He says in the Blessed Qur’an:
وَمَا بِكُم مِّن نِّعْمَةٍ فَمِنَ اللّهِ
Every good thing that reaches you comes from God (16:53)
Orthodox Islam unambiguously holds that God rewards us purely through His Mercy and under no obligation or requirement to do so – and certainly not via our deeds.
Simply, the Islamic view is that belief and/or deeds are not the cause/s of salvation. Rather, God Almighty is the Cause of Salvation in Islam. God I is needed to be saved. Nothing else can suffice, assist or impact salvation in any way.
So, what is the purpose of our deeds, then? Orthodox Islam holds that there is much wisdom behind our deeds.
For example, Qadi Iyyad states that the purpose of saying that none will enter heaven except those whom God shows Mercy towards is not to reduce the purpose of deeds. Rather, it is to allow the servant reflect upon the reality that good deeds are only carried out and completed by God’s Providence. Good deeds are in fact a sign to the believer of God’s Mercy being upon him. Similar statements are made by many scholars of Orthodoxy.
Indeed, such a reflection will lead the servant to realise that one has complete need of (faqr) and should therefore completely rely upon God Almighty (tawakul). This is the objective of Islam – to rely solely upon God. This is the path to salvation:
وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُ
And he who relies entirely upon God will find Him fulfilling (65:3)
Dr. Craig went to pains to illustrate himself as an honest exegete of the Qur’an, but I think his Christian and philosophical biases may be affecting his ability to remain honest. I shall now look to more of his statements in the lecture that I believe any honest person would find problematic.
I found it interesting that Dr. Craig feels that ‘the Church’ has failed to speak clearly about Islam. It is difficult for me to respond to this accurately, as I am not sure what ‘church’ Dr. Craig belongs to (is there a Reformed Molinism Philosophical Church?). But, regardless, he must have a very narrow view of what ‘the Church’ is, because he has ignored the many statements the Catholic Church has made about Islam in the last 60 years (we’re ignoring the bulk of the last 1400 for now), as well as the statements made by the Anglican Church and the plethora churches that have and continue to make statements about Islam, such as the ministries that host Dr. James White (including his own). From all of these statements I could glean a very clear and unified comment from ‘the Church’ if I needed to. What exactly does he mean here?
Dr. Craig suggested that Islam is false because it must rely upon ‘metaphysical explanations’ to refute the ‘fact of the crucifixion’. A ‘fact’ he supports with a statement from a Jesus Seminar affiliated scholar. Surprisingly for a philosopher, there are two key errors with this assertion. Firstly, Dr. Craig has committed the fallacy of appealing to authority. Beliefs held by scholars affiliated with the Jesus Seminar are not by virtue ‘facts’. Facts are established by evidence. Moreover, Dr. Craig has suggested that metaphysical explanations are inferior to natural ones. I wonder how he establishes the ‘truth’ of the resurrection without a metaphysical argument? Indeed, if he can establish the resurrection with independent and objective ‘natural’ evidence, then wouldn’t he be better served using that as a proof of God, as opposed to his borrowed Kalam Cosmological Argument (yes, borrowed from Muslims). I was very confused by these comments, given these inconsistencies.
Another major flaw with Dr. Craig’s understanding of Islam is his views on Dar ul Islam and Dar ul Harb. In fact, in a few short sentences he has done what no Orthodox Muslim scholar has done before him and declared every European nation part of Dar ul Harb (The place of conflict). He fails to acknowledge the Prophetic injunction to follow the laws of a leader as long as one is not forced to sin (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volum9, Book 89, Number 258). He also fails to acknowledge the distinctions of Dar ul Aman and Dar ul Khawf (The place of trust and The place of fear). Is he not aware that a Muslim is considered to be in The place of trust if he is made a citizen, allowed to pray and fulfil his religious duties and that in return for such rights he must follow the laws of the land and be an upright citizen? If so, he did not make it very clear in his presentation and he should apologise. If not, he should refrain from presenting himself as a Christian who understands Islam until he has completed sufficient study. Such an error is akin to a Muslim saying Jesus (peace be upon him) called for the death of non-believers in the Gospels.
The ‘honest exegete’ continued to link the verses of the Qur’an that refer to the expulsion of polytheists from the Arabian Peninsula with the verses that refer to the People of the Book paying the Jizyah. Perhaps this was not his intention, but in combination with much of what he had said prior, and with the purpose of this portion of his lecture to be to outline the threats posed by ‘mainstream, moderate Muslims’, I found much of these adjuncts to his analysis of Salvation in Islam to be fear mongering, albeit eloquent. This was even more apparent with his peculiar historical tidbits, such as the suggestion that it was the expansion of Islam (not the Roman Empire) that was responsible for the ‘fall of Assyria’ (an entity that ceased to exist as a nation and was subject to Roman authority prior to the Christian Era, about 750 years before a follower of the Prophet Muhammad stepped foot in the geographic region).
Ultimately, I found some satisfaction in the conclusions he drew with some of the final questions he was asked in the audience feedback session. Dr. Craig suggested that Christians set the bar really low when evangelising others, such that they should not comment on evolution, even though it directly contradicts the Christian stance on Adam (peace be upon him) and therefore compromises the doctrine of original sin. Of course, Dr. Craig went on to say that he is a firm believer in an ‘historical Adam’ (I’m not sure how one could be a Christian and not be) but that it is not essential for a Christian to believe it and that holding to evolution is fine as long as one believes in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. So we’re not all children of Adam, but he kicked it all off? Right… (I wonder why Paul bothered to write Romans 5 and Corinthians 15 if believing Christians can just ignore them? I wonder what else a Christian could ignore from their Scripture?)
This left me thanking God for Islam. Thanking God for the religion that presents the logical arguments Dr. Craig builds his upon. Thanking God that we are not permitted to hide essential belief to prospective converts.
Now, if only Dr. Craig could explain that ‘God is Love’ thing with a little more consistency… But that’s a blog for another day, inshaAllah.