The Islamic Worldview: An Exposition and Biblical Critique
This essay first appeared as an appendix in my book, The Test: A Seeker’s Journey to the Meaning of Life. As I explain elsewhere on this website, The Test is an exposition and defense of the Biblical Worldview. Naturally enough, I began it by explaining what a worldview is. Then, after considerable philosophizing, I wound up defining a worldview as a way of looking at reality as a whole, based upon a coherent set of answers to nine ultimate questions—what I call “the questions of life.”
They are as follows:
1. What is the ultimate reality?
2. What is the origin of the universe, life, and man?
3. What, if anything went wrong: Why are evil, suffering, and death present in the world?
4. What, if anything, can be done about them?
5. What is the meaning, or purpose, of life?
6. How should we live? What are the proper standards for human conduct?
7. What happens when we die?
8. Where is history heading?
9. How can we find trustworthy answers to the questions of life?
Over the years I have found these questions to be fabulously useful, in large part because they enable me quickly to identify and analyze any given worldview. My goal in this essay was to do that very thing. In particular, I wanted to perform an extended “worldview analysis” on one of the most popular, powerful, and dangerous religious ideologies in the ring today: Islam.
Unlike Communism, Islam will not likely be exiting the stage of world history any time soon. Accordingly, it is a matter of considerable urgency that Christians familiarize themselves with it. This will enable them better to serve their Muslim friends, relatives, and acquaintances, and also to ponder how Christian citizens in open societies might best respond to this militant faith as a matter of public policy.
In the essay below, the parenthetical scripture citations are taken from the Qur’an. Also, I refer occasionally to a detailed chart entitled The Islamic Worldview. You will find a link to it here, and at the end of the essay.
Islam is the world’s second largest monotheistic religion. As such, it posits that the ultimate reality is a single infinite personal Spirit: Allah. This theistic metaphysic gives Islam a definite advantage over naturalistic and pantheistic worldviews, since it enables its adherents to explain the natural, moral, and probationary orders quite well—all of which point to a distinctly personal creator god.
Moreover, one can make a case that Mohammad attempted to do this very thing. For example, he often appealed to nature as a “sign” of the existence and power of Allah (17:44). He ascribed to Allah all the elements of the objective moral order: moral absolutes, moral obligation, and a law of moral cause and effect. And finally, he definitely viewed life as a test: a test of one’s obedience to the revealed will of Allah. Thus, the Islamic worldview harmonizes fairly well with the three great created orders that point to the existence and activity of an “unknown” personal god (Acts 17).
There are, however, several additional considerations that should give seekers pause.
First, the Quranic treatment of the three orders is not nearly as extensive as that found in the Bible. More importantly, the treatment that it does offer is largely drawn from the Bible. As a result, it is hard to find much that is innovative in the Quranic “revelations” about the three orders, while it is easy to see that they lack the theological richness and nuance of their biblical counterparts.
This fact is particularly evident with respect to the Islamic portrayal of the probationary order. As the chart below indicates, the Qur’an makes life a simple test of our obedience to Allah’s will, an obedience motivated by the fear of hell and the hope of heaven. The Bible, on the other hand, makes life a test of our love of spiritual truth, which, if passed, leads to an obedience motivated by love and gratitude to God, who, through Christ, has already delivered his people from hell, and already granted them the gift of the knowledge of himself, with the assurance of heaven besides. More on this below.
Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam also affirms the necessity of divine revelation for attaining trustworthy answers to the questions of life. In particular, it teaches that those revelations are found only in the Qur’an, since the teachings of the former prophets (including Moses and Jesus) have been lost, corrupted, and/or superseded. In short, Islam contends that Mohammad is God’s appointed Teacher—the only one sent by Allah to all the nations—and that the Qur’an is his appointed book.
There are, however, several major problems with this view. Let us briefly survey each.
Problems With the Prophet
Muslims assert that Mohammad is the world’s supreme prophet, bringing a full and final revelation of Allah’s will. There are at least three good reasons to doubt the truth of this claim.
First, Mohammad is without attesting supernatural signs. As he himself admitted, he performed no miracles, even though he was pressed to do so by his contemporaries (2:23; 3:183; 4:153; 6:8-9; 17:88). This omission is all the more significant when we learn from the Qur’an that in times past Allah frequently confirmed the words of his messengers with miracles, and did so lavishly in the case of Jesus (2:87, 253; 5:10; 110; 112-114).
Also, despite Muslim claims to the contrary, there is not a single Old or New Testament prophecy that points clearly to the person or work of Mohammad. In other words, the Bible is clearly a Christ-centered book, and just as clearly not a Mohammad-centered book. We see, then, why Mohammad lifted up the Qur’an as his one and only “miraculous” sign: He had to, for he had no others (3:181-4; 4:153; 6:8-9).
Secondly, Mohammad was a man of less than exemplary character. On this point, Islam itself teaches what common sense affirms: a true prophet must be sinless, or at least without major defects in character and behavior.
Did Mohammad meet these criteria? Critics cannot help but respond by citing a number of well-documented historical facts that raise serious questions.
For example, Mohammad had about 15 wives, though his own Qur’an limited a man to four (33:50). Some of these wives he ignored, others plotted against him, and one he took to himself when she was only nine years old.
After initially inculcating religious tolerance, Mohammad later expelled recalcitrant Jews, Christians, and pagans from their homelands, or else slew them outright. He subdued entire tribes at the edge of the sword. He raided caravans. He broke a peace treaty with the Meccans. He fought during the holy month, contrary to Quranic law. He endorsed lying, oath breaking, torture, and assassination, all in the name of Allah.
The Meccans, unimpressed with his claims to the prophetic office, charged him with plagiarizing Jewish, Christian, and pagan sources—a reasonable enough surmise, given that he frequently traveled as a merchant among all three of these people groups (16:103; 25:4f). Also, one of his early scribes, a man named Abdollah, eventually foreswore Islam, claiming that Mohammad had agreed to “improving” (i.e., changing) Allah’s revelations at his (Abdollah’s) suggestion.
Importantly, it appears that Mohammad himself was not unaware of his own moral lapses, frankly confessing that he too was a sinner who needed Allah’s mercy (40:55; 47:19; 48:2). His life therefore stands in sharp contrast to the example, teaching, historical influence, and personal testimony of him who said, “Which of you convicts me of sin” (John 8:46)?
Finally, Mohammad’s call and subsequent behavior evokes a strong suspicion of demonic influence. It arose early on, even in Mohammad’s own mind. When the angel Gabriel first came to him, he (Gabriel) pressed him three times with a coverlet, “so tightly that I thought it was death.” After this terrifying experience, Mohammad sought the comfort of his wife, Khadija, who tried to assuage his doubts about the source of the revelation and his fears of demonic deception.
Once, in order to divine from Allah the truth about the faithfulness of his wife Aishah, Mohammad fell into convulsions, and then, before a terrified audience, awoke from his trance with beads of sweat covering his forehead.
On yet another occasion, he set forth a revelation permitting intercession to three pagan deities. Realizing from his disciple’s shocked reaction that he had just contradicted earlier sayings condemning idolatry, he later declared that Satan had deceived him, that the offending “Satanic verses” were henceforth canceled, and that new ones had been given to supplant the old. Finally, it is noteworthy that Mohammad claimed to speak to the dead, and that he sometimes prayed for the dead in a local cemetery.
In contrast to all this, we learn from the NT that Jesus expressed no doubt whatsoever about the divine source of his revelations, heard directly from his Father (rather than angelic mediators), and took great pleasure (rather than terror) in doing so. Much the same was true of the other biblical prophets, who, it should be noted, were strictly forbidden to engage in spiritism (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).
Summing it up, we have seen that Mohammad has no body of supernatural signs to attest to his revelations, that he was not a man of outstanding moral character, and that there is a definite suspicion of demonic activity in his life and religious teaching. Is it likely that the unknown god would appoint such a man as this to be his Teacher to the entire human race?
Problems With the Qur’an
These considerations lead us to a discussion of the Qur’an itself. Muslim apologists regard this book as nothing less than a miracle; a full and final divine revelation for all mankind; a “necessary attribute” of Allah’s own mind; a revelation perfectly transmitted through the angel Gabriel and the apostle Mohammad, perfectly preserved for all time (39:1-2; 43:3-4; 55:1-2; 85:21-22).
But again, there are good reasons to doubt these lofty claims. Here, I will focus on two.
1. Flawed Evidence
First, the traditional evidences for the divine inspiration of the Qur’an do not stand up under scrutiny. For example, it is argued that the beautiful literary style, diction, and structure of the Qur’an are quite miraculous, and therefore proofs of its divine inspiration. But literary excellence hardly qualifies as a miracle, still less as a proof of divine inspiration.
Furthermore, many question the Qur’an’s literary quality, citing its “obtuse” (i.e., non-chronological) arrangement, its many grammatical irregularities, and its ponderous and confusing diction. Also, if literary excellence points to divine inspiration, then surely the Bible is even more divinely inspired, since it is a much larger book that displays a far greater variety of literary genres, all of which are executed with consummate literary skill.
Again, it is asserted that the Qur’an has been preserved free from change or error since the beginning. Now even if this were true, it would prove neither divine inspiration nor special providential oversight, since many non-inspired books have been well preserved.
But as a matter of fact, it is not true. Prior to Uthman’s 7th century recension, there were a number of different versions of the Qur’an in use. Indeed, it was their many discordant readings that led to Uthman’s recension in the first place, and to the mandatory destruction of the all the rest. This is why Shiite Muslim’s, to this very day, allege a tendentious editing of the standard Sunni Qur’an, and why alternative texts of the Qur’an still remain in use.
Muslim apologists also point to what they call the fulfilled prophecies of the Qur’an. These, however, are precious few, and hardly prophetic in the traditional biblical sense. Instead of being detailed predictions of specific historical events, they are largely generic promises, usually of future victories over the unbelievers. Even the Quranic prediction of Rome’s forthcoming defeat of Persia is more in the nature of an educated guess than a true prophecy (30:2-4). Most fair-minded investigators would therefore agree that nothing in the Qur’an remotely compares with Daniel’s detailed prophecies of the four coming world empires, or with Jesus’ minute predictions of his imminent death and resurrection, or with his warning about the destruction of Jerusalem that would soon follow (Daniel 2, 4; Matthew 20:17-19, 24:1ff).
Finally, these same apologists contend that the “unity” or internal consistency of the Qur’an proves its divine inspiration. But again, while internal consistency is doubtless a necessary mark of divine inspiration, it cannot be said to prove it. Many internally consistent books are not inspired, and some are even full of lies.
As a matter of fact, however, the Qur’an is not internally consistent. For example, the infamous “sword verse” authorizing the execution of unbelievers (9:5) contradicts approximately 120 other passages commending religious tolerance (2:256). Some texts affirm that Christians will enter Paradise (2:62; 5:69), others that they will go to hell (3:85; 5:72). One passage enjoins the stoning of adulterers, while another prescribes punishment by 100 stripes (24:2). Mohammad, aware of such contradictions, attempted to solve them by propounding a doctrine of “abrogation,” declaring that Allah occasionally sets aside earlier revelations by means of later (2:106). However, this maneuver only aggravated the problem, since he himself had given revelations insisting that there can be no change in Allah’s words (10:64; 6:34)!
In passing, it is worth noting here that Caner and Caner, in their book Unveiling Islam, have found at least 14 Quranic contradictions, most of which are not resolvable by an appeal to abrogation. For example, surah 2:29 states that Allah created the earth first and then the heavens; surah 79:27-30 says the opposite. Again, surah 21:76 says that all of Noah’s family survived the Flood; surah 11:42-43 says that one son drowned. And again, surah 22:47 says that one of Allah’s days equals a thousand human years; surah 70:4 says that one such day equals 50,000 years. If, then, internal consistency is a mark of divine inspiration, the evidence speaks loudly against the divine inspiration of the Qur’an.
2. Contradictions and Anachronisms
Secondly, the Bible contradicts the Qur’an—and the Bible does display supernatural evidence of divine inspiration. In the body of The Test I have discussed this evidence at great length, placing special emphasis upon the multilayered, Christ-centered unity of the Bible, a unity that shows itself dramatically in OT Messianic christophanies, types, and prophecies. The Qur’an, being set forth by one man over the space of 23 years, and not by some 40 different men over the space of some 1600 years, displays no such unity, and is therefore without supernatural attestation. This crucial difference entails that when the Qur’an contradicts or speaks against the trustworthiness of the Bible, it is not reasonable to believe those accusations.
On the other hand, it also entails that when the Bible contradicts Quranic declarations, it is reasonable to believe the Bible. And the Bible does contradict the Qur’an, both in matters of historical fact and doctrine.
Caner and Caner again give us a sampling of the former. The Qur’an states, for example, that Pharaoh’s wife adopted Moses (28:9); that Christians worship three gods, one of whom is Mary (5:116); that a Samaritan made the golden calf (20:85-97); that Abraham offered Ishmael rather than Isaac as a sacrifice to Allah (37:100-111); that Saul, rather than Gideon, led Israel to war against the Midianites (2:249); and that Judas (or some other surrogate of Jesus) was crucified by Pilate (4:157). Those who know the Bible well know that it belies all of these assertions, and that a number of them involve serious historical anachronisms.
As for matters of doctrine, it is true that the Bible and the Qur’an do display some broad similarities. Both affirm, for example, a monotheistic view of the ultimate reality; a supernatural creation in six days (though one Quranic text says eight); the existence of angels, Satan, and demons; the probation of Adam and Eve in Eden; sin, judgment, and salvation; revelation, prophets, and divine law; and finally, reward and retribution in the world to come.
Nevertheless, despite these broad similarities (which, again, many critics trace to plagiarism), there are actually a great many differences—differences that are of great importance. In our next section, we will look at just a few.
Summing it up, we have found that a supernaturally attested Bible contradicts the Qur’an at many points—and that the Qur’an also contradicts itself. How reasonable is it, then, to believe that the Qur’an is divinely inspired?
Problems With Islamic Answers To the Questions of Life
Let us conclude our evaluation of the Islamic worldview with a few words about its answers to what are arguably the four most important questions of life.
The Ultimate Reality
As we have seen, Islam has a fairly intuitive view of the ultimate reality, positing an infinite personal Spirit who, in some respects, is like the God of the Bible. However, for a number of reasons Allah fails to satisfy completely.
First, it is impossible to know much about him, since, according to Islamic theology, we ourselves are not created in his image and likeness (i.e., he is not like us), and since his many names do not describe his nature, but only his will.
As a result, Islam portrays Allah as a distant sovereign. Above all else, he is the lofty moral governor of the universe, but never a loving heavenly Father who desires intimate fellowship with his human children, and has in fact created them for it.
In other words, the Islamic view of the ultimate reality offers seekers no hope of something they deeply long for: inward spiritual union and relationship with their creator. Sufism, with its emphasis upon mystical experience of the immanent Allah, attempts to rectify this defect of Islamic theology, but this sect is generally regarded as being beyond the pale of orthodoxy.
Finally, we must always remember that Islam stands violently opposed to the biblical revelation of the trinity—to the claim that the one true God exists as an eternal fellowship of three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Aware of such opposition, some Christian ministers to Muslims are tempted to soft-pedal this doctrine. However, they do so unwisely, since the Bible places the trinitarian mystery at the very heart of its teaching about God, creation, redemption, and eternal life. Therefore, let every evangelist be faithful to portray the ultimate reality for what it is: an infinite tri-personal Spirit, into whose loving, joyful, and eternal communion the living God invites all who will simply come to his Son. Then, trusting in God’s mighty power and infallible purpose for his elect, let us leave the results to him.
What Went Wrong?
To this troubling question of life, the basic Islamic answer is, “Nothing went wrong. Adam’s sin did not ruin the human heart, nor did it affect the realm of nature. Rather, things go wrong whenever men (or jinn) misuse their freedom to transgress Allah’s will.”
But for a number of reasons, this answer is problematic.
First, by divorcing natural evil from Adam’s sin, it makes Allah the author of all natural evil, including death.
Secondly, it offers no real explanation for sinful acts. How can “freedom” lead to rape, theft, murder, pride, hatred, or foolishness? How can forgetfulness or carelessness or external pressures do so? No, evil acts clearly flow from evil passions, passions lodged deep within the human heart, just as the Bible says (Mark 7:21f).
Thirdly, this answer trivializes sin, being content to view it only in terms of outward acts of transgression, rather than in terms of an innate hostility to God that produces outward acts of transgression (Matthew 7:15-20; Romans 3:9-20, 8:7). Moreover, it offers no hope of personal deliverance from sin, since it does not even acknowledge that such a principle exists in the human heart.
Finally, this answer severely undermines the possibility of assurance of salvation. Why? Because in tracing sin and guilt exclusively to each individual, Islam leaves each individual alone before Allah, wondering if his good deeds will outweigh his bad on the Day of Judgment.
The Bible, on the other hand, traces sin and guilt to the person and work of the first Adam, a bad Head; but it offers each individual salvation through the person and work of the last Adam, a good Head. In other words, by propounding a doctrine of representative headship, the Bible makes assurance of salvation possible and available through simple faith in Christ, an all-sufficient source of righteousness and pardon. But because Islam explicitly rejects the doctrine of representative headship, it shuts up Muslims to their own good works, and therefore to a life of fear that those works are insufficient to save them from the wrath to come. More on this in a moment.
We find, then, that the Islamic theology of the origin and nature evil is defective at many points—points upon which the Bible not only speaks differently, but far more reasonably and with far greater hope.
What Can Be Done?
On the godward side of the equation, the Islamic solution to the problem of evil, suffering, and death is Paradise, which Allah will bestow upon his resurrected followers as a reward for their obedience in this life. On the manward side, the solution is for people to remember Allah, and to do his revealed will, especially by embracing the five articles of faith, and by practicing the five pillars of Islam. If, on the Day of Judgment, one’s good deeds in these areas outweigh his bad, Allah will welcome him into the heavenly garden. If not, he will cast him into hell. Here then is a simple system of salvation by good works, one that has seemed reasonable and attractive to many people. However, for several weighty reasons, seekers should pause for second look.
First, this scheme of salvation appears to involve a defective view of divine acceptance. Yes, it is natural enough for us to hope that our good deeds will somehow cancel our bad. But the persistent testimony of our conscience is that our bad deeds always demand punishment, no matter how many good deeds we may have done. Will a judge remit the death penalty of a proven murderer, simply because hitherto he has been a model citizen? As this question shows, moral intuition insists that justice be done in all cases; that the unknown god, in order to remain just, cannot simply overlook or counterbalance a transgression, but must actually punish it. Importantly, Islam itself seems to acknowledge this very thing, asserting that all believers must suffer in the grave or spend some time in hell (19:71).
It appears, then, that the true balm for a troubled conscience is not a vague hope that in the end our good deeds might outweigh our bad, but a confident assurance that God will punish someone (or something) else for our sins, so that he may justly forgive us and accept us. Unfortunately, Allah himself rules out this option, saying, “No bearer of a burden can bear the burden of another” (17:15; 35:18). But the God of the Bible rules it in, saying, “Christ suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18; Romans 3:21-26).
Secondly, as a general rule, Islamic teaching on salvation does not offer eternal security to believers. This is intrinsic to its theology, and in more ways than one. The believer cannot know if Allah has chosen him for final salvation (17:3). He cannot know if he has met, or will meet, the conditions for salvation, which is a preponderance of good deeds over bad. He may fear that he has committed one or more of the unpardonable sins mentioned in the Qur’an and the Hadith (4:48, 116; Hadith 2:375, 460, 448). He may also wonder (and fear) how long he must suffer in the grave or in hell before Allah takes him to Paradise. In view of all this, it is hardly surprising to learn that Mohammad himself did not know what Allah would do with him (Hadith 1:35)! If, then, eternal security is really important to a Muslim, his only recourse is to engage in jihad and to die as a martyr to Allah’s cause. According to the Qur’an, this is the only good work that guarantees instant and perpetual access to Paradise (3:157-8, 169; Hadith 1:35).
In all of this we see that the Muslim stands on far different ground than the Christian. The Christian views salvation as a gift to be received rather than a reward to be earned. Moreover, he is presently assured by the Holy Spirit that Christ has already paid the penalty for his sins, so that at the moment of death he will be in heaven with his Lord (John 1:12, 5:24; Romans 8:16; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Ephesians 2:8; Colossians 2:2; 1 John 5:13). Indeed, it is because the believer is already seated in heavenly places with Christ that he can now exult confidently in the hope of the glory that is yet to be revealed (Romans 5:1-2, 8:18; Ephesians 2:6). Needless to say, many a troubled Muslim, fearful of the Day of Judgment, has found promises like these to be “good news from a distant land” (Proverbs 25:25).
How Can We Find True Answers to the Questions of Life?
We have seen that Islam points seekers of religious and philosophical truth to Mohammad and the Qur’an. But for the many reasons discussed above, it does not appear that these are reliable sources of divine revelation. What is needed, then, is a Teacher and a Book that really are surrounded by a credible body of supernatural signs; that maintain the highest ethical standards; that supply intuitive, reasonable, right, and hopeful answers to all the questions of life; and that have won a large following of satisfied disciples, disciples who manifest the abiding love, joy, and peace that the knowledge of the truth must ever bring.
May all who read these pages keep up their search for that special Teacher and that special Book until at last they have found them both!
- To view the reproducible four part chart displaying The Islamic Worldview, click here.
- For further study, see Caner and Caner, Unveiling Islam (Kregel, 2002) and N. Geisler and A. Saleeb, Answering Islam (Baker, 2002).
- For the titles of a number of good books analyzing various aspects of Islam, visit the web bookstore of Summit Ministries.
- For an online Christian lecture series covering all aspects of Islam, click here.
- To view a host of materials made available through The Gospel Coalition, click here.
- To learn about Elam Ministries, an outreach to Iranian Muslims, click here.