In his autobiographical work “Deliverance from Error” the great Muslim scholar al-Ghazali writes:
I saw that the children of Christians always grew up embracing Christianity, the children of Jews always grew up adhering to Judaism, and the children of Muslims always grew up following the religion of Islam.
It is true that people are affected by their environment. They tend to see things according to the way they were brought up. Ghazali suggests that religious people usually don’t make the effort to see things from the others’ point of view.
We agree, but we suggest that with that effort, usually motivated by the encounter with believers of other religions, it is possible for Christians to see the internal coherence of Islam, and for Muslims to see the internal coherence of Christianity.
Islam and Christianity are parallel universes of meaning, each governed by its own laws.
Christians who would like to understand Islam should begin by appreciating the importance of prophets to the Qur’an. One of the favourite words of the Qur’an for divine revelation, or scripture, is “reminder”.
Surah, or Chapter 15, has God say:
We reveal the Reminder, and lo! We verily are its Guardian.
Humans, according to the Qur’an, made a primordial covenant to worship God. Yet humans tend to sin, to forget, and to be ungrateful. This is why God, in his mercy and care for humanity, sends prophets: they come to remind humans of their obligation to worship God, and to submit to Him.
Like Moses before him, and Muhammad, after him, Jesus in the Qur’an comes to bring a scripture which reminds humans to be submissive to God, or, in Arabic, muslims.
Although the prophets are many, their message is substantially one: to worship God alone in His transcendence.
They, Jesus included, remind their people of this same fundamental truth. There is no progress in the basic religious message.
Theologically, what is taught at the dawn of creation is repeated in Abraham and again in Muhammad.
Historically, what Muhammad preaches, is believed to be identical with Abraham’s religion and both are considered to mirror the most fundamental structure of human beings.
Because of this view, the Christian doctrine of Jesus as Emmanuel, which means “God-with-us” in Hebrew, is inconceivable for the Qur’an. It would contradict the very identity, the very mission, of a prophet.
Yet if one journeys into another universe of meaning into the world of the Bible, a different picture emerges.
In the beginning God creates man and woman in His own image. Humans are the crowning achievement of the gracious act of creation. The great gift God gives to humans is freedom, and when humans use that freedom to turn away from God, He does not give up.
He continues to care for humanity and even alludes to their salvation.
The Bible is the story of God’s search for humanity and the ultimate step in this search is Emmanuel: God-with-us.
In the next video we will see how this story unfolds.
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