Engaging Australia’s Muslims

Over a thousand Muslims were filing out the doors while a group of Australian believers and I waited patiently outside one of the largest mosques in Melbourne, Australia. Our arrangement with the imam was to attend their service and then dialogue with him about our respective religious convictions. After listening to the sermon and observing their Friday prayers, we sat down with the imam and a couple of other Muslim leaders for what turned out to be a spirited interfaith discussion.

Muslims don’t trust the Bible. Though they believe that the Torah, Psalms, and Gospel (a single document they believe once existed that was different from our four Gospels) are true revelations of Allah, they also believe the biblical books have been either intentionally or accidently corrupted. Not only is this one of the most common objections, but it’s also a serious one. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John contain the true identity of Christ, His life, and His message of reconciliation. Those books, though, are the very documents Muslims claim are corrupted. When you try to tell a Muslim about Jesus, they fire back with the charge of corruption. In fact, that’s what the imam quickly claimed during our interaction at the mosque.

Christians are often caught off guard by this response. There’s very little you can say about the claims of Christ without relying on the four Gospels. Fortunately, though, I’d spent a week teaching about Islam and training these Australian believers how to overcome this objection.

Although Muslims claim the Bible is corrupted, Islamic authoritative sources teach the opposite—that the Torah, Psalms, and four Gospels are the uncorrupted Word of God. The Quran teaches it, Mohammed said it, and Muslim scholars confirm it.

  1. The Quran teaches it: Muslims believe the Quran contains the literal words of God. That means they must accept everything it says. It turns out the Quran teaches two concepts. First, it teaches that no one can change the words of God (surah 6:115, 6:34, 10:64, etc.). Second, it teaches the Torah, Psalms, and Gospel are the words of God (surah 2:136, 3:3, 29:46, etc.). Therefore, if no one can change the words of God, and the Gospel (which I’d argue is a reference to the four Gospels) is the Word of God, then it follows that the four Gospels are the unchanged Word of God. Muslims can’t claim they’re corrupted if their highest authority teaches the opposite.
     
  2. Mohammed said it: Not only does the Quran teach that the biblical books mentioned in the Quran are trustworthy, but Mohammed—their most esteemed prophet—affirmed the very same thing. According to the earliest extant biography of Mohammed (Life of Mohammed, written by the Muslim Ibn Ishaq, pg. 268), four Jews asked Mohammed a question: “Do you not allege that you follow the religion of Abraham and believe in the Torah which we have and testify that it is the truth from God?” Mohammed replied, “Certainly, but you have sinned and broken the covenant contained therein….” Notice, when asked if he believed that the Torah—which the Jews had with them during the 7th century—was the truth from God, Mohammed answered in the affirmative. He even held them accountable to the Torah’s commands, presuming that the Torah was reliable. It wouldn’t make sense for Mohammed to respond in this way if he believed it was corrupted.
     
  3. Muslim scholars confirm it: The most trusted Muslim authorities also confirm that the biblical books have not been changed. Abdullah ibn Abbas was Mohammed’s cousin and most trusted companion (sahaba). His commentary is regarded as the most reliable because of his close relationship with Mohammed. Writing about a quranic passage that refers to Jews who “displace words from their right places” (surah 4:46), Ibn Abbas says, “‘They corrupt the word’ means ‘they alter or change its meaning’, yet no one is able to change even a single word from any Book of God. The meaning is that they interpret the word wrongly.” Notice that Ibn Abbas confirms that the verse refers to a different interpretation of the biblical text while simultaneously affirming God’s words can’t be changed. Renowned 14th century scholar Ibn Kathir says the same thing: “None among Allah’s creation can remove the words of Allah from his books…. The Tawrah and Injil remain as Allah revealed them, and no letter in them was removed.”

If all of these Islamic sources (and there are many more) affirm the same point—the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels are trustworthy—then Muslims can’t sustain their claim that those Christian texts are corrupted. On the contrary, we can point Muslims to what Jesus taught about Himself in the four Gospels.

That’s precisely what the Australian believers were able to do. They could point the imam to his highest authorities to clear the charge of corruption. Of course, we wanted to be respectful as well. The goal was to build bridges so that the believers in that country can make a long-term difference for the kingdom with the many Muslims that come to their shores.

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Alan Shlemon

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