The following transcript is from an Apologetics 315 interview with David Wood. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today’s interview is with David Wood. David is a former atheist who converted to Christianity after examining the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. As well as being a teaching fellow in philosophy, David directs Acts 17 Apologetics ministries defending the Christian faith against atheistic and Islamic objections. In this interview I will be asking David more about his testimony, his insights into Islam and his advice for Christians doing Islamic Studies and apologetics.
Thanks for joining me today David.
DW: Good to be here.
BA: David as I was preparing a good date for this interview, we had to wait until the Dearborn Arab festival was over in Michigan. Could you tell our listeners a little bit more about that festival and what you were doing there?
DW: Well the Dearborn Arab festival, it is not a religious festival. It is an Arab festival, kind of like October Fest in Germany, celebration of German culture or something like that. But at the Arab festival, you have Arab food and Arab music, things like that and people come from all around the country sometimes, from overseas. It’s not just a Muslim festival, there are Muslims there. I would estimate that roughly half the people who go there, maybe a little more are Muslims, but you also have lots of Arab Christians and then non-Arabs who are just showing up for the festival. But what you have there is you have a situation in which over 300,000 people are showing up to have a festival in Dearborn, Michigan and lots of Christians and lots of Muslims as well see that as an opportunity to preach a message.
So if you are a Christian, we are told to bring the message to all people, to make disciples of all the nations. And here we have a situation where all in one place, you have people from Iraq, people from Egypt and people who came to the United States from all around the world, immigrated here and they gather together for the Arab festival in the city that has the highest percentage of Arabs anywhere in the country. Dearborn, Michigan has roughly about 30% Muslim population there in Dearborn and so lots of Christians show up and you have of course the total spectrum of Christian evangelists. You have some who are very nice and just want to get into a conversation with a Muslim and so you know they will stand on the corner and try to hand out some tracts and maybe even be outside the festival for when Muslims are walking home and try to get into a conversation with them.
And then you have at the other end of the spectrum, people holding up signs saying “Muhammad was a pedophile” – and stuff like that. So you have a pretty interesting mix there at the festival and I show up to kind of see what needs to be done and if there are any problems there, you know I want to make sure that that the truth is known. And what I mean by that is you often have someone maybe starting to pick on the Christians, even the nice Christians and so I try to make sure everyone is OK. I have gone to the festival for the past four years and the first year I just showed up and started passing out DVDs – Christian DVDs, copies of the New Testament, things like that. And when we got back the next year, things had changed and we weren’t allowed to hand out materials or to distribute anything. The police actually said no one is going to be allowed to distribute materials, even on the public sidewalks around the festival and so well there you know I showed up to hand out materials and wasn’t able to and so Nabeel was there with me and we decided – you know – we tried to get into a conversation with some Muslims at a booth and that ended up being a pretty famous video on YouTube. I think we got 2 million and some change views because security, one of whom had Hezbollah tattooed on their arm – these are some lovely guys to have running security at a festival but they actually started slapping us around a little bit.
What we do there has kind of changed over the years depending on what other people are doing. If other people are going after Christians and we are going to try and you know film it to make sure they have a record so that no one lies about what happened later on and if we have an opportunity to get into some conversations, that’s good and what I have done for the most part when I get a chance is – some of the other Christian evangelists who are there, who are having a discussion – if they run into a Muslim who wants to argue and wants to engage in Apologetics, “Here is my evidence. What do you have?” then several times over the past few years, people have kind of pointed those Muslims in my direction so that I can discuss the Koran and the Bible with them.
BA: Well obviously you are real involved there and anyone who has followed your ministry or your blog knows that last year there was quite a scene with arrests for disturbing the peace. Just so our listeners have more of a background on what happened last year, can you describe these arrests?
DW: Well last year we went to the festival and again we weren’t allowed to distribute any materials but given what had happened at the previous festival, you know getting slapped around by security guards, we wanted to make sure that this problem had been taken care of, that Christians are free to have discussions or ask questions to Muslims and so you know, we had talked to police, you know we could have pressed charges on the security guards, we decided not to but we wanted to make sure at the festival that everything was going smoothly and it certainly wasn’t.
We were walking around at the festival and Nabeel got into a conversation with some young Muslims. I guess the group is maybe 15 or 16 year olds and they started asking him questions which are the standard questions that Muslims have from Christians. Things like, “How can you believe that God died?” or “When did Christians start believing in the deity of Christ?” and “Hasn’t your Bible been corrupted?”
So they are asking basic questions which are the main questions young Muslims would ask of a Christian. Nabeel starts answering them and before we know it, police come upon us and I was standing there just recording. They were more interested in talking to Nabeel because he is a former Muslim. And so a police officer came up behind me and said “Excuse me Sir.” And so I thought that he wanted to get by so I stepped to the side but as soon as I started stepping to the side he actually grabbed me and put me in handcuffs and then they arrested Paul and Nabeel as well. We didn’t know it but they had already arrested Nageen who was there with us. And so they put all four of us in jail that night and some friends came and bailed us out the next day, but it is something I have noticed over the past several years dealing with Muslims is that nothing – nothing tends to set Muslims off here in the West more than talking to some young Muslims and explaining Christianity to them.
Every time I have ever talked to like a 14 or 16 year old Muslim, some people are coming by to break that up by any means necessary and what they did last year was, all the Muslims started calling in complaints to police “Oh. They are out here harassing people. They are harassing people. They are starting a riot, this and that.” Police came threw us in jail.
BA: I have seen this video from last year. It is rather interesting. I wonder if you have gotten responses from people saying “Oh. You are just going there to pick a fight.” What do you say to people who say that you are just going there to provoke conflict?
DW: Well we were actually as careful as we possibly could be not to provoke conflict. At the 2009 festival when security started slapping us around, people said “Ah. It’s because you went up to a booth and had a camera rolling and you filmed people and they didn’t want to get filmed.”
Now that’s not correct. The Muslims at the booth gave us permission to record them. That is wrong but in 2010, we said “Alright. We are not even going to do that. We are not going to walk up to anyone and start recording them. We will have a camera pointed just at us and then if anyone wants to come up to us, they see we have a camera there, and if anyone wants to come up to us, they are free to do so.”
If you go to the festival you see there are cameras everywhere. Everyone is walking around recording with iPhones or with video cameras, so cameras are all over the festival. We recorded just ourselves. We are doing everything we can so that no one can say “You were trying to cause a scene or trying to start a fight” or something like that. So we just recorded ourselves and everyone who comes up to us knows that there is a camera four feet away, and so they understand that they are being recorded. And they arrested us anyway.
I mean it’s just… it’s a big concern to see that happening in the United States and anyone who says “You are going there to cause a problem,” I mean “What?” I mean we are at a festival, recording ourselves and that’s somehow deliberately provoking Muslims to attack us? Strange way of thinking, I think.
BA: Again, it is amazing, when you watch the video, just to see the response of the police to what is really nothing happening and to be arrested for it is shocking. I started out the interview wanting to highlight your involvement there, not only to show what sort of ministry you are involved with, but I have seen and a bit kind of shocked at you know the influx of Islam and its permeation, so I wonder in your view, what sort of growth do you see in Islam in the US and why do you think it’s so important for Christians to be equipped able to answer it.
DW: Well I have heard various statistics about the growth of Islam in the United States. I have heard 20,000 a year. I have heard 30,000 a year. I have heard 35,000 a year converts to Islam, so those are the standard figures that you will hear. 20,000, 30,000 – somewhere 20 to 30,000. Somewhere in that ballpark. Maybe 35. Statistics also show that within a couple of years, roughly half of those people who have converted to Islam will leave Islam for one reason or another. So you are dealing with 1,000s of converts which in a country of you know 300 million people isn’t a tremendous amount. You also have immigration though. So Muslims immigrating to the United States. You have – you know Muslims birthrates tend to be a bit higher than non-Muslim birthrates. I don’t know of any statistics specifically in the United States but in Europe for example, Muslim birthrates are about 3 times higher, than those of non-Muslims. So you put all this together, Islam is going to grow.
Now you know, in itself, the growth of a religion shouldn’t be you know, making us think there is going to be some sort of political disaster. I mean Mormonism is growing, Scientology is growing. Atheism is growing. But with Islam the situation is a bit different because Islam unlike any other religion that I know of has a lot to say about unbelievers and about how unbelievers are to be treated. So you compare this with Christianity and Judaism, where the teachings of Christianity are meant for the Church. When you read the letters of Paul, most of that has to do with how Christians are supposed to live. You don’t open it and say “Here is what you must make unbelievers do?” Here you preach to the unbeliever but that in itself is a command to the Christians. This is what Christians are supposed to do.
And so the teachings are about Christians themselves and similarly with Judaism. “Here is what – you know in the Old Testament – here is what you do in your land. Here is how you guys are supposed to deal with people in your land.” – It says nothing about going around the world and forcing everyone to convert or anything like that. That is pretty standard among the world’s religions is that the teachings are directed at people who actually believe in the religion. Islam is different in that Sharia applies not just to Muslims. It applies to everyone, once Islam has taken over a society. So Muhammad taught all kinds of things about how unbelievers are to be treated and when you examine what Islam says about unbelievers and how we are to be treated under Islamic rule, you are not going to like it.
It’s some bad stuff with respect to teachings about women, with respect to teaching about all kinds of things. Islam, you know we have a problem with Sharia itself but Islam specifically has commands about Christians and Jews and pagans and so it is very strange for me to hear so many people saying, “You know, you are an Islamophobe if you are worried about the spread of Islam. You are an Islamophobe or racist or bigot for looking into these teachings. Wait a minute. Here is a religion which is growing and in the religion, if it grows to a certain point, it is commanded to take over and it’s commanded to do certain things to me and to my children. Well who wouldn’t be concerned about that?
So that’s why we should and here in the West especially be concerned about the growth of Islam.
BA: Yeah. Well that’s good information and much of our interview, I want to focus on Islam and how Christians can better interact with Muslim friends, give good answers to objections coming from Islam, but before we do that I think our listeners would be interested in hearing about how you actually became a Christian and then how you got interested in Islam.
DW: Well as far as becoming a Christian, it’s actually a pretty long story. I am going to put out a video on it here maybe in a month or so. It is actually kind of long and bloody. The basic idea is I grew up as an atheist. I don’t remember ever believing in God when I was young. The short version would be one day I messed with the wrong Christian and I had gotten used to bullying Christians – not in a physical sense of bullying them, but bullying them intellectually and raising all these objections to Christianity and almost every Christian I had ever run into just backed down immediately. Just saying “Hey you know – you just have to know it in your heart” and I would say “I don’t know it in my heart.” And they would say, “Oh. You know you just have to believe” and I thought that that was ridiculous and one day I started messing with a Christian and this guy just tore me to pieces and I didn’t know what was happening. |I thought I was smarter than him and here he was just ripping me to shreds.
So he actually made me want to study Christianity more to win the argument against him and so I went and understood even back then that Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus. So I went right after that and I tried to refute the resurrection. Now the problem is that I am not hyper-skeptical. I am a bit skeptical by nature but I am not hyper-skeptical where no amount of evidence is going to convince me of something that I disagree with and I think lots of people who are the champions in the atheist community are like that. It doesn’t really matter what the evidence is, it is not going to convince them. But I wasn’t like that.
So when I actually started studying the resurrection, I thought I was going to find absolute nonsense, no historical evidence, everything Christians are saying is wrong and I found out well there is a ton of evidence that Jesus died by Crucifixion and there is a ton of evidence that He was alive again after He died and so here all the evidence I have tells me this guy died and all the evidence I have tells me this guy was alive again after He died. That sounds like a miracle and well if I am going to have anyone tell me about God, it would be the One who rose from the dead. Certainly a lot more to it than that, but it’s a rough sketch of how I became a Christian.
BA: From there, you become a Christian, what gets you interested in Islam?
DW: Well I actually studied. I started studying Islam before I was a Christian. So when I was still an atheist – started studying Islam a little bit, wasn’t impressed. Went on to study other things and after I became a Christian, I ended up with an Imam – that’s a leader of a mosque – I ended up with a Muslim Imam as a weight lifting partner. So we would actually go to the gym and be lifting weights and discussing Islam vs. Christianity. And so I started studying Islam mainly because my friend was a Muslim. And back then I was a brand new Christian. I didn’t know how to act. I hadn’t grown and so when we argued, it was a nasty affair. We weren’t nice. You know we ended up, I guess for about a year or so we were friends and then after that we were – we didn’t like each other much just because we were both really nasty so you know later on I learned “Hey wait a minute. Probably not supposed to act like I did when I was originally a Christian,” but I had learned a lot about Islam during that period and later on of course became friends with Nabeel Qureshi. Nabeel and I became best friends.
He was a Muslim and actually tried to convert me to Islam and so here my best friend is a Muslim and it was actually cool because it never occurred to us that if you are friends with someone, you are not going to criticize their beliefs. I knew that he had my best interests in mind and he knew that I had his best interest in mind and so when he would say “Jesus never died” or “Jesus never claimed to be God” or “Your Bible has been corrupted” and I would say “Muhammad is a false prophet. The Koran is not the Word of God.” We understood “Hey. I am not trying to hurt your feelings here. I am actually trying to help you.” You know that kept us together for a long time. But that was actually the main reason I started studying Islam, was just my best friend was a Muslim. If my best friend back then had been a Mormon, I don’t know, maybe I would be involved in Mormonism right now because I mean really given my background I am more interested in atheism. That’s what if I had to pick something to deal with I am most interested in the topic of atheism and offering evidence for the existence of God. But after running into Nabeel, I ended up studying it for a period of several years and then Nabeel of course becomes a Christian and so you know my first instinct after Nabeel became a Christian was “Aha. Now I am done. I am done studying Islam. I can get back to atheism which I am much more interested in.”
But then I saw what happens when a Muslim converts to Christianity and it was you know – it was World War III in his family and in his community and all his cousins and everyone else. It’s “Hey. You are wrong. You are an idiot. You are a horrible person. You are in rebellion for leaving Islam and we are going to come and refute you.” His Dad started making him go to all of these Muslim scholars all over the place to lead him back to Islam and so you know my reaction to all of that was “Hey. You are not are not going to mess with my buddy like that. You are going to be messing with both of us.”
Then I ended up continuing to study Islam because well now my friend was getting attacked by Muslims from all around the world. And so never actually got away from it and I think it is a good thing because in the Christian community there are tons of apologists working on offering arguments for the existence of God and refuting people like Richard Dawkins and other atheists and there is comparatively much less emphasis on refuting the arguments of Islam and so even though I am more interested in atheism, I think it is important that I am dealing with Islam right now.
BA: Well tell me a bit about Acts 17 Apologetics ministry – what it is, what you are actively involved in right now.
DW: I am trying and I am starting to get back to dealing with some atheism issues and I have been dealing with the problem of evil for a long time that’s actually my area in Philosophy – the problem of evil – the argument from evil. As far as Islam goes I have a blog. We do debates. I have done, I guess around 30 public debates over the past 3 or 4 years, most of them with Muslims and so we have a blog where we make Apologetics videos and post articles and such, current events and apart from that, Sam Shamoun and I – we do a television show called Jesus or Muhammad and it’s actually a pretty cool setup. There is an Arab satellite. Arabs around the world get this satellite when they leave the Middle East. They get this particular satellite because it beams all the Arab channels into their houses. So you pay a certain fee, get the satellite and then you have access to all the Arab channels.
Well there is a Christian TV station called ABN that broadcasts Christian programs into those Arab households which I know I have an Arab friend named George, and he says he has never been into a Muslim house that didn’t get those satellite channels. But ABN started broadcasting Christian programs into there and eventually they started getting requests for English programs because they said “Hey. We come to the United States and we come to Europe and we come to Australia and we speak Arabic, but our children are speaking English, and so could you have some English shows” and so they started one called Jesus and Muhammad and basically we deal with one topic per show and we address it for about half an hour and it’s a live call-in show, so you have Muslims calling in, Muslim scholars calling in and so you have debates on there. So it turns out to be – it is pretty fun. We see lots of things happening in fact Nageen, Nageen who was arrested with us last year at the festival. That’s actually – she started calling in the show, when she was still a Muslim. So we have gotten lots of feedback from people saying that they were thinking of converting to Islam but you know, they watched the show and they stopped or we have heard from Muslims who were watching the show and later left Islam and so yes, that’s pretty much what is going on now.
BA: Well. Excellent, now shifting gears and talking about some of more in depth on some of the issues of Islam, you mentioned earlier how the resurrection and your evaluation of the evidence was persuasive to you but Muslims deny that Jesus died on the cross, so I am wondering, how do you argue historically that Jesus actually died on the cross, when you are engaging with a Muslim?
DW: Well this is actually I think one of the most important topics in dealing with Muslims. And I don’t just mean the Crucifixion, I mean approaching the Crucifixion and our Apologetics approach in general. Apologetics in the West developed you know for the most part over the past several decades as a response to skeptics and atheists and things like that. What I find is that lots of people approach Muslims and respond to Muslims like they are responding to atheists. So if a Muslim says, “Hey. Your Bible has been corrupted, the response is ‘Well, you know, let’s examine the textual criticism and I will show you through a study of manuscripts that the Bible hasn’t been corrupted.” Not realizing that the Muslim’s view of the Bible has absolutely nothing to do with that Muslim ever examining any evidence. It has nothing to do with that.
Similarly, the Mm’s view of the Crucifixion has nothing to do with Muslim ever examining the evidence for the Crucifixion realizing “Ah. You know the evidence just doesn’t fit. The evidence just isn’t quite enough or the evidence shows that Jesus didn’t die by Crucifixion.” It has nothing to do with that. It is just based on a verse of the Quran – Sura 4:157 which says that Jesus didn’t die by Crucifixion. Instead it was made to appear to people as if Jesus died. The standard Muslim interpretation is that someone, most likely Judas was crucified in Jesus’ place after being disguised by Allah. So Allah took someone, again probably Judas, made him look like Jesus and then Judas was crucified but everyone thought that it was Jesus because Allah had disguised this person to make him look like Jesus, but actually Jesus was safe in Heaven.
So you know it is of course important to explain the evidence, “Hey. We have Christian sources. We have Jewish sources. We have Roman sources. Everyone agrees Jesus died. Every shred of evidence we have tells us that Jesus died.” That is important. It is important to note that we have a scholarly consensus on that. You can go to even people who are very critical of Christianity, people like Bart Ehrman or the Jesus Seminar. They all regard Jesus’ death by Crucifixion as one of the best established facts of ancient history. Certainly the best fact we know about Jesus other than just His existence. So we have a ton of historical evidence, but I find with Muslims that doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter, because they are not basing their view on any kind of evidence. They are basing it on what the Koran says.
So when I address this issue with Muslims, really one of the easiest approaches is to open the Koran, look at Sura 4:157, ask the Muslim what happened. The Muslim is most likely going to tell you Judas was crucified instead of Jesus and that Allah disguised him. And so in that situation, I am not going to go into history. I am going to say “Why would Allah do that? Why would Allah trick people into believing Jesus died on the Cross? That became one of the central teachings. That became one of the three core elements of the Christian Gospel – Jesus death by Crucifixion and you are telling me ‘Allah tricked people into believing that even though it is not true.’”
At that point, I say “Look. You tell me Christianity is a corruption of Jesus’ message, well who corrupted it?” One of the false teachings of Christianity according to Islam is that Jesus died on the Cross. Jesus died by Crucifixion. Well who started that false belief? You can’t blame the apostle Paul here. You can’t blame the Council of Nicea. You can’t blame any of the people that Muslims would normally blame for corrupting Christianity. You are blaming Allah for starting – helping to start at least, the world’s largest false religion. So rather than go you know to a solely historical approach – again you know it is good to point out the historical facts – but really the point that the Muslim needs to understand is, when they say something like that, they are telling us something about God. They are telling us that Allah is a deceiver who starts false religions for no reason. And you can ask a Muslim why. Why would Allah deceive people and the general response is going to be “Oh. To protect Jesus.” Well wait a minute. No! Jesus was safe in Heaven. So there is no good purpose that comes out of deceiving people into thinking that Jesus died. The only thing that does happen as a result of that is that you get the largest false religion in the world.
So the only result of Allah’s deception is a bunch of misled, deceived people. And it is important to note, even Jesus’ followers who according to the Koran were Muslims were apparently deceived by this, because Jesus’ original followers came to believe that He died on the Cross and yet the Koran tells us that these people were good Muslims. So here you have Allah deceiving not only the enemies of Jesus’ but He is also deceiving people who follow Jesus. And at that point, “Wait a minute you have got a God who misleads and deceives even people who follow His prophets. How can anyone be safe? If you Muslims are following Muhammad and you believe that Muhammad preached a god who willingly deceives even people who follow his prophets, how do you know he is not doing the same thing to you?”
Once you allow an omnipotent deceiver who starts false religions into your theology, I don’t see how anyone can be safe. This actually plays a role in the thinking of many Muslims. Abu-Bakr was Muhammad’s closest companion and the first rightly guy to Caliph after Muhammad died. He took over the leadership of the Muslim community after Muhammad died and he said that if he had one foot in Paradise, he would still fear Allah’s deception. Now just think about that. You have one of the best Muslim ever, one of Muhammad’s closest companion saying “You know if I was stepping into Paradise, I would still fear that Allah was deceiving me. He was just going to cast me into Hell. He was just making me think I was getting into Heaven.”
So this idea of a God who deceives people is really a disturbing one but at the same time it is something that most Muslims have never thought of and so it is important to bring this up with Muslims to get them to think. “Yeah, why would Allah do that? Why would Allah deceive a bunch of people into believing a false doctrine that starts false religion?”
BA: Great insight there. Is the Allah of Islam the same as God the Father? I know that some Arab Christians or Southeast Asian Christians there are going to refer to God as Allah. But do they mean the same thing? Do Muslims mean the same thing when they are using the word Allah?
DW: Well it is kind of a yes and no situation. Allah can be just a generic word for God, like our word God. It can refer to God or it can refer to you know false gods or something like that. So in one sense it just means God and also in one sense you know it depends on what you mean. If you are saying well Allah and God the Father are both believed to have created the Universe, so they are creative, they are all-powerful, well in that sense they are the same. But there are some very important differences. For instance, the God of the Bible is a Trinity, the God of Islam is not. That is totally ruled out.
The God of Islam is a father to no one. That is according to the Koran. Over and over again it is denied that we can call God the Father. Of course in the New Testament, we can refer to God as our Father. So the highest relationship you can have in Islam with God is a master to slave relationship. There is no, you would call God, father because you have become a child of God. You don’t get to have that kind of relationship with Allah. Another important difference is in the attributes of God. So in Christianity we are told to love everyone because God loves everyone. We are told that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. So God loves us even when we are sinners. God loves us and loves our enemies, sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous and tells us that we are supposed to do the same based on God’s love. I am supposed to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. You find in Islam, just in case anyone thinks I am making something up, you can look it up. Sura 3:32 specifically says God does not love unbelievers. You have verses like that throughout the Koran telling us all the various kinds of people that Allah just does not love and that is a very crucial difference.
Think about it, in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love everyone, because God loves everyone. Well if Allah only loves good Muslims, which is according to the Koran, that’s how it is, Allah only loves good Muslims, why should Muslims care much about all these people that Allah doesn’t love? And of course you find out in the Koran that Muslims can go out and fight and kill the unbelievers. So you can see how theology affects the practice of unbelievers. So you have the God of Christianity is a Trinity, Allah isn’t. The God of Christianity loves everyone even when we are sinners. Allah doesn’t, but also when it comes to other attributes, for instance, Allah’s justice. Allah can forgive you. It is totally up to Allah. He can just sweep your sins under the rug. Most Muslims believe that’s what Allah is going to do at the end of the time.
“So you know, you did a pretty good job. You were a good Muslim, you recited the Shahada and you also committed a bunch of sins throughout your life, well Allah can kind of overlook those.” What that means is that in Islam, Allah’s justice is not perfect. He can let some sins slide. At the end of time, there will be unpunished sin, whereas in Christianity God’s justice is so perfect, God isn’t going to let any sin slide and so one of the main differences between Christianity and Islam is that Christianity by maintaining that God is so just that all sin must be punished and yet so loving and merciful that He is willing to pay that price Himself. Christianity retains God’s perfect attributes while Islam diminishes and reduces both. God isn’t perfectly just. He can let sin slide. He is also not perfectly loving. He only loves good Muslims. So there are lots of differences between the Biblical God and the god we read about in the Koran.
BA: Alright well talking about the Koran then one of the beliefs in Islam is that Muhammad was divinely inspired to recite the Koran. What are the reasons that they would believe that?
DW: Well a Muslim can give all kinds of arguments for Islam. Interestingly in the Koran, there are only a couple of arguments, actually given in the Koran for why we should believe in Muhammad.
One is that the language of the Koran is so wonderful it must actually come from God. I mean this is a very very strange argument. I call it the Argument from Literary Excellence or less formally the Argument from Good Poetry or something like that. What it basically amounts to is “My poetry is better than your poetry, therefore my poetry must be the inspired poetry of God” and that is absurd on so many levels. I don’t know how anyone could ever really take this argument seriously. I mean think about it. Mozart’s symphonies are so wonderful they must come from God, and if you don’t believe they are the best symphonies, produce something better than them. Well I couldn’t and I don’t know of anyone who could write symphonies better than Mozart’s symphonies but what in the name of common sense would that have to do with whether Mozart’s symphonies are the inspired music of God? So far as I can tell, absolutely nothing.
Best case scenario, it would mean that Mozart was the best symphony writer. It wouldn’t mean that it is actually from God. And so even if we turned to the Koran and we found that it was the greatest thing, the most marvelous book ever written, I don’t see how that would prove that it must be from God. At best it would just prove that Muhammad was really really great. In other words, it’s an even-if scenario. Even if Muhammad’s book was the best, it still wouldn’t mean it was from God, but in fact when we actually turn to the Koran, we find that it’s really just not that great. It’s just not that great. By the way, this argument impressed next to no one in Muhammad’s time.
So when Muhammad started preaching in Mecca, this was his argument. The Koran is so wonderful, it must be from God and Muhammad won very few followers with this as his argument. In fact, at the end of about 12 or 13 years of preaching, he had somewhere between a 100, 150 followers, so this isn’t exactly like a Billy Graham Crusade of conversion here. Just to give listeners an idea of what Sura is, you have in the Koran, various chapters of the Koran, some are very short, some are very long, but according to Sura 2:23, the challenge that is actually laid out runs as follows: “And if you are in doubt as to which we have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it, and call on your helper, besides Allah, if you are truthful.”
Now that’s the whole chapter. Now a Muslim will say, “Ah. But in Arabic…” Well in Arabic, it’s basically the same thing as it is in English. It is a series of words put together to convey some kind of meaning. What sense does it make to say, “No human being could put these words in this order?” Any human being could put words in a certain order. There is no arrangement of words that a human being couldn’t come up with. So this argument is very very strange to say the least, but that’s the argument that Muhammad relied on when he initially started preaching. Again it didn’t work very well. It didn’t win very many followers.
The other main argument we find in the Koran is what you could call the Argument from Biblical Prophecy. Muhammad is mentioned in previous scriptures so in the Torah, it specifically says in Sura 7:157 that Muhammad is mentioned in the Torah and the Gospel and that we can find him written in the Torah and the Gospel. Now notice this is – Muhammad is telling us something that we can find in the Torah and the Gospel and if we don’t find it there, then that’s a problem. Imagine a prophet comes up to me and says, “You want to know if I am a prophet, walk down by the river there and you will see a big sign telling you that I am a prophet.” Well if I walk down there and it’s not there, you are wrong. He obviously can’t be a true prophet. So this has really put Muslims in a bind that there are supposed to be references to Muhammad in both the Torah and the Gospel that even Christians and Jews can find.
What happens when we actually go to those sources? Well we don’t find anything about Muhammad. It is actually a pretty rough situation because Muslims are kind of forced. They are forced to find something that kind of sounds like it refers to Muhammad because Muhammad said it is there. They are forced to find some reference to Muhammad in the Torah and some reference to Muhammad in the Gospel and that is a problem because both these books, if you go to them contradict the teachings of Islam, but after centuries of searching, Muslims have come up with several.
The most popular and I would say the best, even though they are really really bad to say that these are about Muhammad, but the best ones that they have been able to come up with are one from the Gospel of John – now think about how strange it is to appeal to the Gospel of John, which starts by saying, “the Word was with God and the Word was God” and the Word became flesh and that Jesus died on the Cross and so on – imagine how strange it is to pick something from this book and to say this is talking about Muhammad and this is the clear proof of Muhammad or something from the Old Testament saying that Muhammad is a prophet.
The most popular one from the New Testament is found in the Gospel of John and starting at verse 15: Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:5-16). So Muslims totally rip this verse out of context and say Muhammad is the helper or the comforter depending on how each translates it. Muhammad is the comforter so Jesus here says that someone else is coming after Him and obviously this must be Muhammad. Now I really wish, Muslims would actually try reading it in context because Jesus says all kinds of other things, I mean right before, literally in the verse before this passage starts, Jesus says that He is going to answer prayers. Whatever we ask in His name, He will do it. He goes on to say that He is going to send the Comforter. So really in this situation, these verses that Muslims appeal to are always awesome opportunities to present the Gospel and to actually refute Islam.
Take this verse for instance. If you read what Jesus says about the Comforter, He also says that He is the one who is going to send the Comforter. So you can ask the Muslim who is presenting this, “Hey. Who sent the Muhammad as a prophet?” The Muslim obviously is going to say “Allah sent Muhammad.” “Ok so Allah is the one who sent Muhammad. Interesting. Right here Jesus says that He is going to send the Comforter and you just told me that the Comforter is Muhammad so according to your reasoning Allah sends Muhammad, Muhammad is the comforter. Jesus sends the Comforter, therefore according to you, what you just told me, Jesus must be Allah. Now why are you rejecting Christianity?”
So there is that one where you can based on what the Muslim is saying, if he accepts that this is talking about Muhammad then they just admitted that Jesus must be Allah. And you find something similar in the Old Testament. Muslims will appeal to Deuteronomy 18:18, where Moses predicted the coming of the Prophet who would be like him. Muslims say “Aha! Who is like Moses?” Well. Muhammad is like Moses. Moses was a general and a prophet and a political leader and Muhammad was these things too and they are like each other. That is fine until you read two verses later which gives us two criteria for a false prophet.
In Deuteronomy 18:20, we find that if anyone does one of two things, he is a false prophet. If the person delivers a revelation that doesn’t come from God or two if the person speaks in the name of other gods, he was a false prophet and he has to die. That is interesting because Muhammad did both and I don’t mean, you know “Hey. I don’t believe the Koran is the Word of God and therefore I am regarding it as a false revelation.” That is not what I mean. I mean Muhammad admitted that he delivered a false revelation. It is referred to now as the Satanic Verses. So the Satanic Verses, the basic story is that when Muhammad was receiving a Sura one day, he had this passage that said “Have you not heard of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat?” These were three pagan goddesses in Arabia.
“Have you not heard of al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other? These are the exalted cranes whose intercession is to be hoped for.” So there are called cranes because they are like birds who would carry your prayers up to Allah and therefore they would intercede for you bringing your prayers to God. So Muhammad received this revelation. He delivered it to his followers and he bowed down in honor of receiving this revelation that it was now ok to pray these three pagan goddesses and this won him a lot of favor.
At the very least Muhammad couldn’t tell the difference between a revelation from God and a revelation from Satan. That should be a concern for everyone. But I think more interestingly when we connect that with Deuteronomy 18:18, which Muslims appeal to as their main prophecy about Muhammad in the OT, two verses later says anyone who does what Muhammad did is a false prophet. If he delivers a false revelation which Muhammad admitted he did or if he speaks in the name of other gods which Muhammad admitted he did, it’s a false prophet, so it is interesting that Muslims claim to reverence Moses and all the other prophets when if Muhammad had delivered those Satanic verses in the time of Moses, Moses would have told the people to pick up stones and stone Muhammad to death as a false prophet.
So these are the main arguments that we find in the Koran, that Muslims would say “This is how we know that the Koran is from God.” It’s unsurpassable literary excellence, which even the people of Muhammad’s time ridiculed. They ridiculed him for this. For saying that his work is unsurpassable. And Muhammad said the Bible contains references to him when the best passages Muslims have ever found, if you read them more a little more carefully, and read them in context, turn out to refute Islam and expose Muhammad as a false prophet.
BA: Well very good. I think that helps a lot in showing even the counter-response which shows that these are not divinely inspired texts. It’s the other question. Is the Koran pro-war or not? For instance what is the context of the verses that extreme Muslims would use to wage wars of terror and what do you take those verses to mean? And is it a right interpretation of those verses? Is the Koran, pro-war or not?
DW: Well the Koran is definitely pro-war in certain contexts, namely when Muslims have a majority, when Muslims dominate an area. When Muslims are able to fight, they are called to fight, they are called to fight. Interestingly Muslims are even commanded not to seek peace when they are in a position where they could become uppermost. So for Sura – by the way for listeners, Sura means chapter. So Sura 47, verse 35 says, “Be not weary and fainthearted, crying for peace when you should be uppermost.” So don’t – don’t, don’t look for peace when you are supposed to be in a position of dominance. What you have in the Koran is, you have verses spread throughout the Koran of course, some sound very peaceful and some sound very violent. So Sura 2, verse 256, one of the most commonly quoted verses by Muslims here in the West, says “There is no compulsion in religion.” Well that sounds good. We love that here in the West. There is no compulsion in religion. Don’t force someone to believe. Wow. It fits right in with the Constitution of the United States.
But you also read Sura 9, verse 29, “Fight those who believe not in Allah.” So notice, it doesn’t say “fight those who attack you first.” It says “Fight those who believe not in Allah” – fighting people based on what they believe. “Now wait a minute. I thought there was no compulsion in religion. Why are you now commanding people to fight people simply because they don’t believe in Allah?”
Another pair of verses here in Sura 109, “You shall have your religion and I shall have my religion.” That is the conclusion of the Sura that we just read. To you be your religion and to me be own religion. Well that’s a great way of settling conflicts before bloodshed. You know you have your religion, I have mine. And then we read Sura 9:5, “So when the sacred months are passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them.”
So we have passages that can be interpreted peacefully and you have passages that can be interpreted very violently, but what you have and what most people in the West don’t seem to understand is that you have this Doctrine of Abrogation whereby later verses can cancel earlier revelations and in Islam what we find – and this is based on the Koran, it is based on the Hadith, this is based on the life of Muhammad. When Muslims are in a position, when they are outnumbered, when they form a small minority of the population, they are taught to promote peace and tolerance towards unbelievers. That is what Muhammad did when he was in Mecca, when he was totally outnumbered, when he had maybe a 100 followers and if they had fought with the unbelievers they would have been annihilated. That’s when Muhammad received revelation saying “To you be your religion and to me be my religion.” We don’t want to fight you. We want to live in peace.
Later when Muhammad had formed some alliances and he gathered more followers around him, then the revelation changed to saying that Muhammad could fight defensive Jihad. Namely if someone is attacking the Muslim community by various means, it can even be criticizing the Muslim community, then you could fight defensively. You don’t just go out and attack people just because they are unbelievers but the Muslim community is commanded to rise up and defend itself against attacks whether they are physical or verbal. But that is not the end.
Lots of Muslims pretend that that is the end. There is another situation where Muslim are in a majority, where Muslims are dominant and that’s where Sura 9 comes into play, where Muslims are commanded to engage in offensive Jihad. So now it is not fighting defensively against people who are attacking the community, its fighting offensively against people based on their beliefs. To quote Sura 9, verse 29, which I quote at the beginning of it, let me read the entire verse.
Notice every criterion in every one of this verse, every reason given for fighting an unbeliever here has to do with that believer’s belief or practice. It has nothing to do with that person attacking the Islamic community. So Sura 9:29, “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day,” so if you don’t believe in Allah, you don’t believe in the Final Judgment, then Muslims are commanded to fight you.
“Nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and his messengers.” Notice, if we don’t forbid the same things which Muhammad has forbidden, Muslims are commanded to fight us. So if Christianity says it’s ok to eat pork and Islam says you can’t eat pork, well Muslims have to fight us. “Nor acknowledge the religion of truth.” That’s Islam, so if you don’t acknowledge the superiority of Islam, then Muslims are commanded to fight you. Then it has “from among the people of the book” – that’s Jews and Christians – “until they pay the Jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.”
So here in Sura 9:29, Muslims are commanded to fight Jews and Christians until we pay the Jizya, which is basically a tax. We have it better than say polytheists or Hindus or atheists since Muslims believe that we have received revelation, we have the privilege of continuing in our religion provided we pay the Muslim community for protection and feel ourselves subdued so we understand our inferior position.
So this is Sura 9:29 commanding Muslims to fight us based on what we believe and what we practice, not based on whether we are attacking Muslims. So this is when things changed. This is after Muhammad had conquered Mecca. He was the supreme authority in Mecca and after he received this verse, he went out and he launched an expedition against Christians who weren’t attacking. So Muhammad launched an expedition against the Roman Empire. The Romans didn’t even show up. They weren’t interested in fighting Muhammad or fighting for Arabia. They didn’t want Arabia, but Muhammad went out to attack them. This is offensive Jihad.
Now we are actually going out to attack the unbeliever and force them to submit, either by converting to Islam or by paying us a tax. This is what you find over and over again in Sura 9 and in other Suras that were revealed a little before this. Let me give you a couple of examples quickly. Sura 9, verse 73, says “O Prophet, strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them.”
Sura 9, verse 111, just in case someone want to say, as I have heard in a debate before. “Well fight there, when it says fight, fight the unbelievers,” that could just mean, you know not fighting them with the sword but maybe fighting them with words, or engaging them in public debate. No it can’t because a little later in the same chapter, verse 111, Allah defines for us what fighting in Allah’s way means. The verse says, surely Allah has bought of the unbelievers, their persons and their property, for this – that they shall have the guard. So Allah has purchased you. Now what are you going to do. They fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain. So fighting in Allah’s way means you slay until you get slain. You fight and you keep fighting until you ultimately get killed.
Sura 9, verse 123, “O you who believe, fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness.” So you fight the unbelievers who are close by. Another interesting one, Sura 48:29, “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; And those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves.” Muslims are severe against disbelievers. Notice the reason for being severe against them is based on what they believe. “Severe against disbelievers, and merciful among …” – whom? Among everyone? No. Among themselves. So this is what you find in the Koran later on when the Muslims were dominant and had a military.
The passages become dedicated to fighting unbelievers simply because they were unbelievers. And you find the same thing in the Hadith, in the Sahih Muslim, one of their most trusted collection of teachings from Muhammad. Muhammad says “I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah.”
“I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah.” So this isn’t “I have been commanded to fight against people until they decide to live in peace with us.” It’s until they decide to recite the Shahada, the Muslim Creed. So this is what you find, when you go through all of this and you understand how this relates the context. When Muslims are in the minority, peace and tolerance. When their numbers have risen to say 20-30% of the population, then they can engage in defensive Jihad. When they have a majority, then its offensive Jihad. People are forced to convert or forced to pay the Jizya.
And so if you look around just at the world, you can see how this plays out. You go to Saudi Arabia, you are not going to be preaching Christianity. You are not going to build a church. You are not going to evangelize or tell people that Islam is false. You are not going to do any of it. You do not have that right. Why? Because Muslims have a majority in that country. If you come over here to the United States, Muslims say “Ah. Peace and tolerance, you know. We just love to just hug each other and all this,” and that’s exactly what their religion commands them to do. I just want to clarify because I don’t want people to say that “I am saying all Muslims are trying to deceive you or something.” I am not.
Chances are when a Muslim in the West tells you that Islam is a religion of peace, he actually believes that, because he has been influenced by Western values and his leaders have told him that that’s what Islam teaches. So I am not talking about a Muslim who lives down the street who probably believes it when he tells you Islam is a religion of peace. Here we are talking about what Islam actually teaches, what Muhammad laid down in the Koran and the Hadith.
The message from Muhammad is when you are in that minority position, you convince them that Islam is a religion of peace and you can even engage in deception. That is Sura 3:28 of the Koran, which commands Muslims not to be friends with unbelievers unless it is to guard themselves from unbelievers. So if you are a Muslim, you are not allowed to be a friend with an unbeliever unless you are doing it to deceive that unbeliever into thinking you are friendly. One of Muhammad’s companions even commented on that verse and said, “We smile in the face of some people while our hearts curse them.” So we are smiling at you. We are making you think we like you, but inwardly we are cursing you, longing for the day when we can conquer you and subjugate you.
And so again, I am not saying this is what your average Western Muslim believes. The average Muslims you will run into in the West is a perfectly nice, perfectly kind individual, but what Islam teaches when you have two revelations from Allah that seem to conflict with one another in what they are telling you to do, you go with the most recent one. So it’s a pretty simple concept, if you have two verses in conflict like “there is no compulsion in religion” versus “Fight those who believe not in Allah.” Well those seem to be in conflict, what do you do? According to the Doctrine of Abrogation, you go with the most recent one because Allah only gives you something better than what he has abrogated or equal to it. And this is actually based in the Koran itself.
Sura 2:106 says “Whatever communications we abrogate or cause to be forgotten, we bring one better than it or like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things.” So Allah abrogates certain teachings and brings ones that are better than it. And Sura 16:101, says “And when we change one communication for another communication, and Allah knows best what he reveals, they say you are only a forger, nay most of them do not know.” So what this specifically refers to Allah changing one revelation for another revelation. And it is interesting, if you go to the commentaries, the Muslim commentaries on both of these verses, both of these verses were revealed in the context of unbelievers making fun of Muhammad for changing his revelation.
So Muhammad tells people to do one thing one day and he comes back a couple of months later and then changes the revelation and unbelievers started making fun of him saying, “Hey. He keeps changing his revelation. What’s going with Allah?” That’s when these revelations came down and said “Yes. Allah does change his revelation but it’s because he is giving something better.” Now for Muslims who say that the Doctrine of Abrogation – you know and I hear this all the time. It’s in the West that you hear it. You don’t hear this in Saudi Arabia – that there is no Doctrine of Abrogation. You know the Koran is complete and perfect and everything else. That’s either a Muslim who has no clue what he is talking about or it’s a Muslim who is deliberately trying to deceive you. Most likely the former. It’s most likely a Muslim who doesn’t know the Koran and doesn’t know what the real issues are.
Just to give you a simple example, Sura 4:15 gives a penalty for fornication. If someone commits fornication, Sura 4:15 says that the penalty for fornication is house arrest until death. So you get locked into your house until death. That’s what Sura 4:15 says. Sura 24:2 also gives the penalty for fornication and its 100 lashes. Now wait a minute? One Sura tells you that if someone commits fornication, lock them up in the house until they die eventually and Sura 24:2 says that if you commit fornication, the penalty is a 100 lashes. Now, if you are telling me there is no Doctrine of Abrogation, you are telling me there is just contradiction in the Koran, so there was no problem for this in the early Muslim community because they understood this Doctrine of Abrogation.
If you go to the Hadith, you go to Sahih Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al Muslim, their most trusted collections – Abrogation is all over the place. “This verse came down, but it got abrogated by this. No that verse came down, but it was abrogated by this.” Sometimes the Abrogation was almost instant. A verse comes down, someone complains and then another verse comes down. So this is all over all of the Muslim sources. You go to the commentaries, you go to the greatest commentators, Ibn-Kathir, the two Jalalayn, Ibn Abbas, Abrogation is all over the place. “No. This verse was abrogated by that one.”
And so you really need this because there are all these passages in the Koran which are contradictions but for the early Muslim community, they are not contradictions because Allah just gave you something better than what he said before. But Muslims in the West, they are actually doing it for a reason. But when they say there is no Abrogation, then it’s interesting because now they are stuck with all these contradictions. The real reason, I think for denying Abrogation, laying ignorance aside, your average Muslim who denies Abrogation isn’t trying to deceive you. He probably believes there is no Abrogation because he doesn’t know about all these problems and contradictions in the Koran, but a Muslim who knows better and says there’s no Abrogation – they are doing that for a reason and the main reason is, you have two basic methods of interpreting the Koran. We will call one the Classical Method of Koranic interpretation, which is based on Abrogation. You have two verses in conflict, go with the most recent one. And then you have in order to be presented as a religion of peace here in the West, you can’t have the peaceful verses getting abrogated by later verses. You need the peaceful verses to still be in effect and so the method that Muslims are adopted and are claiming actually represents Islam here in the West is to harmonize the verses somehow.
So if you are talking to a Muslim for the first let’s say 10 centuries of Islam and you say “Hey. This Koran here, it says ‘To you be your religion and to me be my religion,’ ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’ Why are you Muslims going out and fighting people?” Anyone from the first 10 centuries of Islam is going to say, “Because those verses were cancelled by a later verse commanding us to fight non-Muslims and to subjugate them. That’s why. Those earlier revelations were cancelled or abrogated by these later verses commanding us to fight.” That’s how a classical Muslim is going to interpret these passages.
Here in the West, you don’t want to say “There is no compulsion in religion” has been abrogated. You don’t want to say “To you be your religion and to me be my religion” has been cancelled and so they will harmonize and say “Aha! There is no compulsion in religion. That’s the official doctrine of Islam. That’s the official teaching about how Islam is to deal with unbelievers. No compulsion in religion.” But what about this verse over here that says “Fight those who do not believe in Allah?”
Well. Now that we are harmonizing verses, we have a verse which tells us that we don’t fight people because of what they believe therefore when Sura 9:29 tells us to fight people based on what they believe, it must mean something else. It has to mean something else because we are interpreting these violent verses in the light of these peaceful verses. And so this verse which tells Muslims to fight must mean fight in self-defense even though that is not what it says. So the idea behind getting rid of abrogation is that you can now retain the peaceful verses that were revealed early on in Muhammad’s ministry when he was still a minority in Mecca.
BA: Well David, I know you have been involved in many debates on the subject as you mentioned earlier, so I wonder what you think are some of the better arguments for this side of Islam.
DW: This is actually a difficult question because what we think of as a great Christian apologist is very different from what passes for a great Muslim apologist. In the Muslim world – and I have gotten this just from being in so many debates and watching many more – In Christianity, our best apologists, they certainly have a debating ability. Debating is a skill. You can have someone who knows all the apologetics in the world but isn’t going to do very well when up on stage, having to think quickly on their feet and so on. So debating is a skill but our best apologists seem to be people who have the best arguments and can defend those arguments the best.
In Islam, their best apologists, the people they regard – I mean even historically – as their best apologists, so historically many Muslim’s regard Ahmed Deedat as their best apologist and now many Muslim will say Zakir Naik is their best apologist, but when you look at their arguments, their arguments are horrible, but the communicators are phenomenal.
So Zakir Naik and Deedat are really all of the popular Muslim apologists – horrible argumentation – but great speakers. That tends to be the ideal Muslim apologist. Someone who can give you a horrible argument but makes it sound so good that it sounds really persuasive and convincing. I want to be clear here. I am not saying their arguments are horrible because I disagree with Islam. I can recognize a good argument or a plausible argument even if it something I disagree with.
Just to give you an example: The Problem of Evil. I don’t believe that the argument from evil actually shows that God doesn’t exist, but it’s not a dumb argument. It’s not a dumb argument to say if you are telling me a perfectly good, perfectly powerful being exists, why is there so much pointless suffering around the world. That’s not a dumb argument. It makes sense to argue that.
The question is you know how do Christians respond to it. The argument itself isn’t bad. When we turn to Islam, I don’t see a good argument. So we already looked at two. The two main arguments given by the Koran, this Argument from Literary Excellence and supposed prophecies about Muhammad in the Bible – both of those arguments are horrible. If a Muslim takes them seriously, it would actually refute Islam. So those are the arguments offered by the Koran.
The other popular arguments that Muslims use, the most popular are the Argument from Scientific Accuracy. So the Koran is supposedly a scientific masterpiece. It contains many scientific insights that were centuries ahead of our time and the Argument from Perfect Preservation which says the Koran has been perfectly preserved. That is a miracle. It is obviously the Word of God. Regarding the science, I don’t know what book they are reading. I open up the Koran and in Sura 18:86 tells us that Alexander the Great, which the Koran refers to as Zul-Qarnain. Zul-Qarnain travelled so far west, he found the name where the sun sets and found it setting in a pool of murky water.
So according to the Koran if you travel far enough west, you will actually find the place where the sun sets. The sun sets in a pool of murky water. Sura 67:5 and 37:6-10, they tell us that stars are missiles that God uses to shoot demons when they try to sneak into Heaven. The stars you see up in the sky, they are sitting there, they are missiles waiting to be thrown at demons trying to sneak into heaven and then when you see a shooting star, it is because God actually hurled one of these stars at a demon. Now that is wrong in on multiple levels. Shooting stars aren’t really stars and shooting stars have nothing to do with hitting demons that try to sneak into Allah’s meeting room.
And you find over and over again in the Koran, these kinds of problems. Sura 65:12 says that there are these seven earths and according to the commentaries they are all flat. They are stacked up like pancakes except they have some space in between them. Sura 88:28 says that the earth is flat. 22:65 says that the sky is actually a solid object that Allah is holding up. If Allah weren’t holding up the sky, the sky would fall on us and over and over again in the Koran, you find these problems at every level. Those are all astronomy but you know, embryological development, Sura 80:6 for instance says that “semen is produced between the ribs and the spine.” So I don’t know what book Muslims are reading when they say it’s a scientific masterpiece. Some of these are really really absurd teachings – the idea that you could travel a ways west and find the place where the sun sets and the stars are missiles. So that’s a really really poor argument.
The other, this argument that the Koran has been perfectly preserved and therefore it is from God, well here again we find an even-if-but-in-fact situation. Even if the Koran were perfectly preserved, that wouldn’t mean that it’s from God. We have books that are older than the Koran. We have manuscripts of books that are older than the Koran. So you have entire manuscripts, let’s say manuscripts of the Bible. You have manuscripts of the Bible that are older than 1400 years and so if it’s a miracle for a book to survive 1400 years then you could prove that any book that has an old manuscript must be the word of God. So even if this were the case, even if the Koran were perfectly preserved, it wouldn’t mean it’s from God.
But then if we actually go to the Muslim sources themselves, we find all kinds of evidence that there were changes, that entire chapters came up missing, that large sections of chapters came up missing, that verses came up missing. Some of it is actually hilarious. For instance, the verse of stoning. We know Muslims stone people for adultery, but that’s not in the Koran. It was supposed to be in the Koran. It was revealed, and so we ask, “Wait a minute. In the Hadith, it says there is this verse in the Koran about stoning. What happened to it?” Well according to their own history books, Aisha, Muhammad’s wife had a copy of it, so it was written down, this verse of stoning an adulterer and a goat came in and ate the manuscript and so they didn’t have it anymore.
And you have all kinds of situations like that in Islam where everyone lost these chapters. We just didn’t recite these two large chapters and now we forgot them. So its situations where Muslims go, walk in and make an argument, let’s say on a college campus, “Hey. The Koran has been perfectly preserved. How is that possible?” And people actually convert based on some of these arguments and they are totally wrong. The slightest bit – 10 minutes of research would show that that is totally totally false. I am not aware of any actually good arguments or arguments that I would be willing to classify as the best arguments for Islam. If I were a Muslim I would view what I think is their most successful approach in the West, which is to keep things on a really really superficial level and lots of the converts I meet – people who have converted to Islam, converted on the basis of something like this:
“Hey. Look at Christianity, it’s so complicated. You can’t understand the Trinity. What is that? What is going on with the Trinity? Incarnation? You mean God came out of a woman? What’s going on with that? Now God’s dying for your sins, that means it’s OK to sin. Look at all this stuff. It is so weird in Christianity. In Islam we just believe in one God who created the Heaven and the earth. This God tells you to repent and serve him and then you can live a good life and go to heaven. So look at Christianity. It’s got so much weird stuff. Islam doesn’t get that weird so convert to Islam.”
I think that’s really the best that they’ve got. Now the problem of course is that Islam is a package deal. It’s not just the belief that God created the world and we are going to strip it from all the weird stuff that Christians believe. Islam is a package deal consisting of not just submission to Allah but you have to submit to Muhammad as well and when you look at the rest of the teachings of Muhammad and Muhammad’s life and the rules laid down by Muhammad, I can’t imagine anyone converting to Islam after doing a genuinely careful study of Islam and I think that’s important to point out. I have met a ton of converts to Islam. I have never met a convert to Islam who did anything remotely resembling a careful investigation of Islam, prior to converting.
It’s always, “I heard this argument and I converted.” Or if it’s a woman, lots of times you will hear “You know hey, I got sick of guys hooting and hollering at me as I walked around in my miniskirt, and I talked to my Muslim friend, and she said, ‘Hey if I become a Muslim, she said guys will respect me because I’ll wear the Hijab. So that’s why I converted.’”
So it’s these sort of very very superficial reasons for converting that totally ignore all the difficulties with Islam and that’s how Muslims are approaching this in the West. I think it’s wrong. I think it’s wrong to convert for those reasons and I think it is deceptive to present Islam in that way but that seems to be their best approach.
BA: Well I wonder what sort of resources you would want to point Christians to who want to be better equipped to engage on this subject of Islam.
DW: We have a tendency to just go to books. What’s the best book to go to on Islam? And I will be honest, there aren’t a lot of books about Islam and about dealing with Muslim arguments out there that I am impressed with. Probably the best book out there is Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb’s Answering Islam which is you know almost two decades old now. But even that to the people who are out there debating Muslims know that they are some much stronger responses that can be given to some of the issues than what you find in Answering Islam.
Answering Islam – Now don’t get me wrong here. I think it’s a great book. The first third where it explains Islamic beliefs – Phenomenal! Best introduction to Islam out there and in fact Muslims will tell you. If a Muslim will read the first third of that book, they will say “Yes. This is what Islam teaches. It’s an excellent introduction to Islam.” And even lots of the responses in there are very good. So when I say that I am not impressed with a lot of the books out there, what I mean is, a lot of the responses are incomplete. Now let me give you an example.
So on the issue of the corruption of the Bible, almost every Muslim you will meet and you start talking about what Christianity teaches, you are going to hear “The Bible has been corrupted” and since apologetics in the West has grown out of this atmosphere of skepticism and atheism and so on, where that’s our target audience, the natural response to the claim, “The Bible has been corrupted” is to go to something like Textual Criticism and show you manuscripts, show you how we can prove the accuracy of the text. But if you are dealing with Muslims, that’s an incomplete approach. That is horribly, horribly incomplete.
If a Muslim says, “David, the Bible has been corrupted.” The first thing I am going to say is “Wait a minute, your Koran in Sura 6:115 and Sura 18:27, both declare that no one can corrupt God’s Word. So the Koran teaches doesn’t it that the Torah and the Gospel are God’s Word? Yes, it does. So if the Torah and the Gospel are God’s Word and your Koran also says that no one can corrupt God’s Word, why are you telling me that the Gospels have been corrupted. You have just contradicted your Koran.” Over and over again Muslims who are criticizing the Gospel generally don’t know this because they don’t know enough about the Koran, but over and over again the Koran tells us to go to the Torah and tells us to go to the Gospel presupposing that we have the Torah and the Gospel.
So Sura 5:47 for instance says “Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah had revealed therein. If any of do fail to judge by the light of what Allah has revealed they are no better than those who rebel.” So this verse actually commands Christians, which it calls the people of the Gospel, to judge by what’s in the Gospel.
“Wait a minute. What’s the Gospel?” I don’t know of any other book other than the New Testament Gospels and even if a Muslim wants to say “Well. You know gospel of Thomas” or something book that comes way later than the actual New Testament Gospels, those don’t agree with Islam either. There is no Gospel, anywhere. Even the gnostic gospels or anything else, there is nothing out there that agrees with Islam. So what Gospel is this commanding me to judge by? In context, telling a Christian, because this is directed towards Christians, Christians believe in a New Testament Gospel which tell us that Jesus is the divine Son of God who died on the Cross for sins and rose from the dead, all of which are denied by Islam.
So kind of the first step when a Muslim says, “The Bible has been corrupted” would be “Wait a minute. According to your Koran, it hasn’t been corrupted and no one can corrupt it. It’s a sign of Allah’s power that no one can corrupt his word. If you are telling me that someone has corrupted his word, you are telling me that the Koran is wrong for telling me to believe in the Gospel and you are telling me Allah is not as powerful as the Koran claims. Is that what you are doing?” And then the Muslim is in trouble.
Now after you have kind of gotten that out of the way, then you can show “Hey. In fact, your Koran is right when it says the Bible hasn’t been corrupted. Here is some evidence for the reliability of the NT.” Going on from there, if the conversation proceeds, at the end of the day, the only claim you can make about the Bible, about the Gospels being corrupted, you could say “Well there are textual variants. That’s true. There are textual variants in the manuscripts.” And you could say, “There were some disputes about certain books historically. So there were people who questioned 2nd Peter as part of the canon. But now if that’s your criterion for a corrupt book, textual variants and disputes about certain books, well then the Koran fails that test. There are all kinds of textual variants in the Koran and Uthman actually burned all the manuscripts to cover up all the textual variants and beyond that Sura 1, Sura 113, and Sura 114, according to Muhammad’s greatest expert on the Koran, the one Muhammad said, ‘If you want to learn from the Koran from anyone you go to him and these three other guys.’ Muhammad’s top expert on the Koran, the one who according to Muhammad we should go to learn the Koran, he said those chapters aren’t supposed to be in the Koran. They are not part of the Koran. They are prayers.”
So that’s what a more complete response to an objection would look like. I really don’t find any books out there that give these kinds of full responses, but this isn’t to say that you don’t have the resources out there. It was to say that the best resources are not in actually any of the published books out there. It’s actually a website that’s answering-islam.org, so the Answering Islam website has a ton of writers. I write for that website. Sam Shemoun, my partner is the main writer for that website, but answering-islam.org – I’d say the best resource out there you can find. Any argument for Islam, you will find, decisive refutations. Any objection a Muslim is going to give against Christianity, I guarantee you will find it on that website, refuted. Just the level of argumentation on the answering-islam website is much better than I have seen anywhere else.
So if people really want to learn about Islam and how to respond to Muslim questions, Muslim objections, Muslim arguments, that would be the best. The other would be – and it’s kind of necessary – some of the Muslim sources, so at the very least you need a good translation of the Koran and if you really want to be thorough, some of their main collections of Hadith.
Now they have tons of collections of stories about Muhammad, but their two most reliable are Sahih Al Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. Generally if you meet a Muslim, those are considered as good as gold. And in case people don’t know the difference, the Koran isn’t supposed to be a work of history about Muhammad. It’s supposed to be a revelation that was in Heaven and that was passed down to Muhammad, via the angel Gabriel, so the Koran isn’t supposed to be about Muhammad except you know in a very limited way. It’s supposed to be a revelation that came directly from God. It’s actually the Hadith, which are different works which contain the life of Muhammad, stories about Muhammad, teachings about Muhammad, because for Muslims, those are authoritative too. The Koran, the word of god is authoritative, but other things Muhammad said are authoritative as well and what Muhammad did in various situations, those things are also authoritative so getting a good copy of the Koran, getting the Hadith at least a couple of the major ones that Muslims respect. Those would be essentials.
Fortunately if you don’t have money to go out spending, buying a bunch of Muslim books, these are all available online. You can find links to those on the answering-islam website as well where you can get 10 different translations of the Koran online easily. Sahih-Al-Bukhari, Sahih-Muslim are online. Their greatest commentary, the Tafsir, or the commentary of Ibn-Kathir, their most respected commentator, that’s available online along with several other sources so basically the best resource for learning about Islam and the arguments out there would be a computer and internet access and just knowing how to separate sort of the good sites from the bad.
BA: Well great David you have shared a gold mine of really helpful information so I would want to point people to you own website as well. Could you mention what that is?
DW: Well. My blog is AnsweringMuslims.com, so answeringmuslims.com and for carefully laid out detailed arguments, like detailed articles, the answering-islam site is much much much better. If you want – If you have a specific objection that you are trying to deal with or a question about Christianity that a Muslim has asked you, answering-islam.org would be the place to do. That is answering-islam.org.
But for debates and videos and you know current events, things like that, we post all of that on our blog and so if you are more interested in youtube videos, debates, things like that, then the blog is answeringmuslims.com.
BA: Perfect. David thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
DW: Alright thank you for everything you are doing for apologetics Brian.