Islam - Lesson 6

Creation, Anthropology, Cosmos

The Qur'an has passages that teach about both practical and spiritual aspects of daily life. The world was created in six days and there will be a culmination of events at the end of the age.

Lesson 6
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Creation, Anthropology, Cosmos

The Qur’anic World View

Part 2

III.  Great Qur'anic Passage #5: Surah 1: Al-Fathiha - The Opening

A.  The Essence of the Qur'an

B.  Part of Daily Prayer

C.  Used in Daily Contracts

D.  Exposition and Theology


IV.  Islamic View of Creation

A.  Creation in six days

B.  Adam fashioned out of clay and spirit breathed into him

C.  Fall of Satan

D.  Woman fashioned out of Adam

E.  Allah, Lord of Throne


V.  Islamic Religious Anthropology

A.  The People of the Book (ahl al-kitab).

B.  "People with no revelation" (the ummiyyun).

C.  The Muslim

D.  The Kafirs


VI.  Islamic View of the Cosmos

A.  Seen and Unseen

B.  Present world and hereafter

C.  Cosmological Model


VII.  Personal Eschatology: Islamic view of the culmination of the ages

  • In this preview video, Dr. Tim Tennent delves into the teachings of Islam and their significance in understanding the unique perspectives of Muslims and Christianity. The teachings of Islam are based on the Qur'an, which forms the foundation of their beliefs. Through this video, you will gain a better understanding of the key differences between the teachings of Islam and Christianity, and how they shape the worldview of Muslims.

  • Islam is based on teachings in the Qur'an. Knowing the teachings of Islam helps us to understand the uniqueness of the teachings of Christianity and the perspective of Muslims.

  • Arabia in the 6th century was a land where traders and raiders lived. Mecca was a city in which many religions were practiced.

  • In his early life, Muhammad was influenced by Judaism, Christianity and the Hanifs.

  • As Muhammad began telling others about his revelations, he was forced to flee Mecca and went to Medina. After he consolidated his power and influence he returned to Mecca.

  • The text of the Qur'an was revealed directly to Muhammad.

  • The Qur'an has passages that teach about both practical and spiritual aspects of daily life. The world was created in six days and there will be a culmination of events at the end of the age.

  • The first two pillars of the Muslim faith are the confession of faith (Shahadah), and ritual prayer (Salat).

  • Almsgiving (Zakat) and fasting (Sawm) are the third and fourth pillars of the Islamic faith.

  • Pilgrimage (Hajj) is the fifth pillar of Islam.

  • Da'wah and jihad are two methods that the Qur'an describes for Muslims to approach infidels.

  • After Muhammad's death in 632 AD, he was succeeded by the four "rightly guided caliphs."

  • The split between the Sunni and Shi'a groups began when there was a disagreement over who should succeed Muhammad after he died. Sufi Islam is the mystical expression of Islam and could be compared to the monastic movement in Christianity.

  • Many Muslims consider the Hadith an important source of information for guidance in how to live their lives.

  • Sharia is Islamic religious law which regulates both public and private aspects of life.

  • Different groups within the Sunni and Shia traditions have various perspectives on how the teachings in the Qur'an and Hadith should be interpreted and applied.

  • Sufi Muslims are more contemplative, mystical, individualistic, syncretistic, and non-legalistic than someone who is an orthodox Muslim.

  • Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Hausa and Tiv.

  • Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Yoruba and Maguzawa.

  • The Qur'an contains a description of Jesus' life and ministry.

  • The description in the Qur'an of Jesus' death, resurrection and deity are different than that of the Bible.

  • Islam does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity.

  • Islam has clear teachings in cultural areas such as the significance of beards, acceptable types of clothing, behavior and acceptable clothing for females, and food and dietary restrictions.

  • In order to make it easier for Muslims to understand and accept the message of the gospel, Christians can approach them with the assumption that they probably misunderstand the Gospel, that the number one stumbling block for Muslims is Christianity, and that the most effective approach is Jesus plus nothing.

  • Comparison of teachings of Christianity and Islam.

In this course, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of Islam, its origins, and its core beliefs and practices. You'll explore the Five Pillars of Islam, the Qur'an, and the Hadith, and learn about the major Islamic sects, including Sunni, Shi'a, and Sufism. The class will also discuss Islam's relationship with Christianity and Judaism, highlighting the importance of interfaith dialogue. Finally, you'll delve into contemporary issues in Islam, such as the role of women, Islamic law and human rights, and the interaction between Islam and politics.

Dr. Timothy Tennent
Creation, Anthropology, Cosmos
Lesson Transcript


III. Great Qur’anic Passage #5: Surah 1: Al-Fathiha – The Opening

A. The Essence of the Qur’an

Our opening great Qur’anic passage  today is found in Surah 5. Everyone should have lecture #4. We are actually at Roman numeral V on lecture #4; but as is our practice, we open with a great Qur’anic passage. So we are going to skip down and do the great Qur’anic passage #5, the Al-Fathiha – the opening. I’m going to make some comments about it, then we are going  to do some references to that.

What you have before you is the first Surah of the Qur’an. What I want to do is make some comments on the passage. Let’s begin by reading the Surah. “In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful, praise be to God, Lord of the worlds, the compassionate and merciful, king on the day of reckoning. Thee only do we worship, to thee do we cry for help. Guide us on the straight path, the path of those to whom thou hast been gracious, with whom thou art not angry and who go not astray.” This is one translation of this particular passage.  

I mentioned before, earlier on in the initial comments, how the Surahs in the Qur’an are arranged, the traditional arrangement, by length, from longest to shortest. I mentioned, of course, there is one exception and that of course is the first Surah. It is called in Arabic the Fathiha, which is the opening. This is the opening of the book. The title is actually the Al-Fathiha. This is the Surah that opens the Qur’an. It is not actually the shortest, but it is a relatively short one. It is considered the first and it takes the place of the other Surahs in this position because it is viewed as the essence of the Qur’an. That is the first point you should know about this Surah, is that this Surah is believed by Muslims to contain the essence of the Qur’an. We will show you why they believe this summarizes the Qur’an.

You may know that Martin Luther called John 3:16 “the Gospel in miniature.” The Muslims will often call this Surah, “The Qur’an in miniature.” Because of that, it becomes very, very important .

B. Part of Daily Prayer

It is important secondly because it is an act of worship that is used daily by Muslims as they perform the daily prayer ritual called the Salat, on which we will expound in due course. The Qur’an itself in Surah15:87 speaks about this, refers to the seven oft repeated verses, or the seven oft repeated ayahs. That is referenced in Surah 15, ayah 87. Those seven oft repeated ayahs do in fact refer to these verses that open up the Qur’an. So even in the Qur’an itself you find a reference to the importance of the Surah. I’m reading from the Qur’an: “We have given these seven of the oft repeated verses in the great Qur’an.” It almost sets these aside as significant, even just as part of the Qur’an itself. In Surah 15, ayah 87 refers to the seven oft repeated, or often repeated verses.

C. Used in Daily Contracts

It is not only used in daily prayers, but thirdly, it is used in daily contracts. When you seal a contract and purchase land, when you buy and sell things, when someone is born, the Muslim tradition is that the first words that a first child must hear are these words. It is also words that are used at weddings. It is used at funerals.  

I have the entire Qur’an on a recording, the whole thing in Arabic. It is wafting through my office day and night. In fact, when I was in India, the Buddhists next door -  it is a very standard thing in the East to recite scripture – they had this huge loudspeaker at this monastery, which was literally right next door to our seminary; so the Buddhists were constantly playing their scriptures over the loudspeakers. We decided three or four years ago, actually to put the scriptures on a speaker and play scriptures day and night. We did this. We got Alexander Scorby or somebody and put it out there. We had some big meetings planned and it was a week when we were having a missions conference and we would turn it off in order to have the conference. People were coming and going and all of that. During that week the Buddhists came over and said, “What happened to the scriptures? We really enjoyed listening to them.”We had no idea that we had all these ears over there and they were listening to the scripture being read. It is a very common thing in the Muslim world to hear the Qur’an being read publicly or recited.

I mentioned the funeral procession. We will say more about what happens at death later on. When someone dies, you turn their face toward Mecca and you give them the Al-Fathiha, you give them this opening. The last thing they personally hear is this passage. This passage is very, very important. It is dated around 613 AD by our reckoning. The Hegira is 622, you recall. The first revelation of the Qur’an is 610. So this is the first three years of the Qur’anic revelation. This is considered a pre-Medina Surah.

D. Exposition and Theology

Let’s do a little exposition and some opening thoughts. Let’s look at this. The Surah opens with what is called “the bismillah”  This is the opening expression, “Allah, the compassionate, merciful.” It is called the “bismillah”. In all of the Surahs but one, it occurs in the opening line, opening of the Surah, but it does not count as an ayah, except for here. In this particular chapter, it does count as an ayah. It opens with worship to Allah and also it gives acknowledgment to a basic cosmology here. “Lord of the creation, lord of the worlds” is another translation of this. The idea here is that all being – men, women, angels, jinn – all come from Allah’s creative hand. This is a very, very important doctrine in the Qur’an, that of creation. You will notice that as you read through, the doctrine of creation plays a very, very dominant role in the Qur’an.

The “compassionate and merciful” is kind of a difficult thing. You will find some translations, not this one though, will use superlatives, “most compassionate,  most merciful.” Actually, most scholars reject that because it’s actually the intensive form. It is a way of emphatically, intensely emphasizing it without a comparative thing. Muslims are often offended by English translations that do it in the comparative. That is one thing to note in your English translations if you have one, this is normally a sign.

So you have this judgment and mercy that are juxtaposed, very, very prominent in the Qur’an, the definition of judgment and mercy. These are rituals being played out throughout the Qur’an. You will find in ayah 5 the exclusivity of Islam. You alone will worship, you alone will pray for help. There is no question that Islam is a very exclusivist religion and posits itself that way. “Guide us to the straight path.” This is a legalistic term in Islam, this is Sharia. “Guide us to know the legal path,” not the illegal path. It is considered a straight path. Again, the legalistic framework of the Qur’an. Your textbook for the course plays on this theme, Islam, the straight path. This is a very common theme in the Qur’an.

Notice what is probably not as clear in the way this thing closes out in the last ayah.  It actually gives this basic anthropology of the human race. There are three groups that are actually alluded to in the negation. Nevertheless, three groups are referred to here. It refers to the path of those to whom “thou has been gracious, with whom thou art not angry and who go not astray.” That is actually three separate groups in the Muslim mind. We are going to develop later more about these groups. Essentially, this first group refers to the Muslims themselves, “those whom you have favored, those that you have been gracious to” refers to the Muslims.  “Those who have incurred your wrath” or “incurred his anger” refers to the “kafir” who have heard the message of Islam, but rejected it. That is a special category of people in the Muslim theology. The third group “go not astray.” This is where we come in. This makes reference to Christians and Jews, who have a book of revelation like the Muslims, but it has been corrupted or in some way they have lost the path, they have gone off the path. These have never been on the path, they don’t know the straight path. The Muslims are on the straight path. The Christians and Jews were on it, but have gotten off of it.

So there is actually a lot of theology being latent in this whole first Surah because you have essentially the Islamic cosmology, the doctrine of Allah and their anthropology all more or less latent in this particular document.  Certainly, overall the feel of this emphasizes the sovereignty, exclusivity of Allah and the exclusive claims of the Islamic religion.

Let’s go back to lesson 4 and complete this lecture. In trying to show a lot of the actual dramatic similarities between the Qur’an and the Biblical revelation, there are obviously substantial differences. Right now we are emphasizing some of the similarities. We talked about how and in what way their view of inspiration is similar to and different from the Christian revelation. We talked about how in many ways, the idea of inerrancy and the idea of verbal clarity, and all that is fine. They do have a view of dictation which is a bit different, which we mentioned that raises issues of translatability outside of Arabic, which are very different from Christianity.

IV. Islamic view of Creation

A. Creation in six days

Now we are briefly exploring creation.  The Qur’an teaches that the world was created in six days, that was in Surah 41:10-12.

B. Adam fashioned out of clay and the spirit breathed into him

This is very widely reported in the Qur’an. There are many references to this. One example is Surah 23: 9 where it says,“We first created man from an essence of clay, then placed him a living germ in a safe enclosure. The germ we made into a clot of blood and the clot a lump of flesh and bones” etc., it goes from there. It even says in Surah 38,  ayah 71, a quite surprising reference, it mentions that after he created Adam and fashioned him, he breathed his spirit into him. Again, a clear reference to the Old Testament revelation.

C. Fall of Satan

Then of course, the angels and Satan are commanded to kneel down and prostrate for him. He refuses and that is the basis for the fall of Satan in the Qur’an. It is a very different twist on the whole thing. Essentially, Satan refuses to acknowledge the creation of Adam and give him proper deference. The fall of Satan is developed quite extensively in the Qur’an. I will give you a few verses: 2:35, 7:12, 15:26, 17:61, 38:71 are some fairly important passages. I will choose one to read to you to give you a feel for this. It is quite an interesting doctrine if you actually follow through these passages  and read them. This is of course all happening third person, being told through Muhammed. “Your lord, said the angels, I’m creating man from clay. When I have fashioned him and breathed of my spirit into him, kneel down and prostrate yourselves before him. The angels all prostrated themselves except Satan, who was too proud, for he was an unbeliever. Satan, said Allah, why do you not bow to him whom my own hands have made? Are you too proud? Or do you think he is beneath you? Satan replied, I am nobler than he. You created me from fire, but him from clay.”

By the way, that has a lot of theological implications I will mention in passing just to kind of whet your appetite, because there is a strong Jewish tradition that Muhammed was obviously aware of, that the angels were all made of fire. Some questions have arisen over the years about the corporal nature of angels and whether angels can disappear like a wind or fire, as the text in Hebrews says. You can tell that Muhammed is aware of not only the Old Testament, the old tradition, but also he is quite aware of many Jewish traditions about angels. So you have this coming out in the text. There are a lot of things about 6th, 7th century knowledge of Judaism that can actually be learned by reading the Quar’an. It is a very important document to read, just to understand how knowledge of Judaism was filtering out beyond the Palestine area, and this is a good example of that. The main point, you can see, is the doctrine of Satan and the fall, emphasized there.

D. Woman fashioned out of Adam

You also have the fact that women are fashioned from Adam. He does basically carry the basic story in Surah 4:1 and 39:6. However, he does make a statement in Surah 4:34 that I think may be a little surprising. In Surah 4:1 and 39:6, these are references to woman being fashioned from Adam, as in biblical accounts. In 4:34 we have the statement made here that “men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other.” Ladies, are you awake? “…and because they spend their wealth to maintain them.” The picture of men comes out quite a bit in the Muslim teaching later on in the Qur’an, but mainly afterwards in terms of what are the ramifications of divorce. It is tied largely to what way a man is responsible for maintaining a woman financially. “Good women are obedient” he says. “They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” This is in the Quar’an.

So this has been a cause in some parts of the world – I wouldn’t say it’s true all across the Muslim world, but in some parts of the Muslim world - for dis-enfranchisement  of women.

E. Allah, Lord of Throne

Essentially what you have in the Qur’an is a view of the cosmos.  You have Allah exalted over the cosmos and man, used generically here, as the one who has been created as the subject of the created order. God has an exalted position, he is the author, creator, center of the universe. Yet he has given man a unique position in the created order, identical  to the Christian worldview in that sense. On the chart you can see how the basic line, the basic circle of Allah, man, God, man are basically the same. The Qur’an and biblical text essentially divide the cosmos into the unseen world and the seen world. You can think of many texts biblically and otherwise that underline this point and certainly that is true in the Qur’an as well. A number of passages point this out.

The issue is going to be, what are the border crossings between the unseen and the seen world? What kinds of interventions will Allah do that is consistent with his nature? That becomes a very important point cosmologically,  comparing the Muslim and the Christian world views.

V. Islamic Religious Anthropology

Before we look at that, I want to spend a little more time on the concept of humanity or man and look at the basic four categories that the anthropology of Muslims is divided into.

A. The People of the Book (ahl al-kitab).

The first major category is the people of the book. We have already explored before the ahl al-kitab. These are people who have a book revelation. This originally applies in Muhammed’s lifetime only to Christians and Jews. As you might imagine, later on when Islam begins to have a serious contact with India and then some after that, when they begin to have contact in Southeast Asia with Buddhist groups, the question arises by both Hindus and Buddhists, “Can we be called the people of the book?” The reason that is so important is because Islam allowed for certain privileges for the people of the book that they would not allow for people with no revelation in the same category, which we have not looked at yet. If you were a member of the ahl al-kitab, you were not forced to repent. I’m talking now as a Muslim would tell you. The reality in many cases is somewhat different from this. According to the Muslim theological framework, the idealized version was that if you were a member of the people of the book and Islam spread into Palestine, there were Jews there, or spreading to North Africa where there are Christians; then if you were just an out-and-out pagan, they could kill you, slaughter you. But if you were people of the book, then they must give you the opportunity to simply pay the tax, an alms tax they had to pay. If you paid the tax, you could continue to remain as a Jew or a Christian. They were allowing for people who would be dissenters from Islam, basically.

The Hindus said, “We want to be people of the book.” There are several cases, well documented, where Hindus and Buddhists were classified by some military leaders in Islam as people of the book. If you felt like you couldn’t defeat them militarily, you might have a strategic advantage by giving them this status. It would be a way of allowing Islam to spread and yet not forcing a military confrontation. There are examples of this in Islamic history. Unfortunately, this class does not throw the net that wide in how we explore these things historically, but it is something to understand in passing.

The people of the book for our purposes essentially refers to Jews and Christians.  The Qur’an certainly is limited to that, though historically this gets stretched quite a bit.  

B. “People with no revelation” (the ummiyyun)

In the same category are the ummiyyun, the people with no revelation. These are people who have never been given revelation. This is the one I referred to when asked this question earlier in the opening session.  Don’t be like those with whom you are angry. These are the people who have never received the revelation. They have no book revelation, they have never seen Christianity or Islam or Judaism. This shows you that Muhammed is still viewing the world in basically two categories. He is viewing the world as those who are monotheistic and those who are not. Essentially, the people of the book refers to monotheistic peoples who basically have it right, there is one god. Everybody else is viewed as idol worshipers.

It reveals a little bit of the mentality of Muhammed and again, his lack of appreciation perhaps for other monotheistic strands that are present in some parts of Hinduism and Buddhism, etc. So, the people who have a book, the people who don’t have a book.

C. The Muslim.

Thirdly is the Muslim. This is the person who not only has the book, which is the Qur’an, but they also have it in the unadulterated form. They have the pure word. This is obviously a historical development after the advent of Muhammed. Before Muhammed, he viewed everybody as either people with the book or people with no revelation. Once Islam comes, then you have essentially Islam from Muhammed’s point of view as the lifting of the Arab people groups, the Bedouin peoples, in the interim the people with no revelation to the people of ahl al-kitab. He is viewing them in this way. Once he has conflict with Jews and Christians, he separates the people of the book into two categories. Those are the Jews and Christians, which he retained and titled “people of the book” and the Muslims, those who submit, which the word “Muslim” means, those who submit to the true revelation. So essentially, with the advent of Islam, a third whole category is now emerging that distinguishes two different kinds of people of the book. The fourth category has to also come up: What do you do with those who had no revelation and have openly rejected it, who said, “We don’t want your book?” Muhammed’s idea was, anybody who didn’t have a book would want a book of revelation. So now, these are people who were ignorant, but now have refused to be included in the community or the umma. Umma is the word, you recall, for the community of Muslims.

D. The Kafirs

They are called Kafirs. It literally means “the stubborn ones.” That is, they are refusing to be included in the umma.

VI. Islamic view of the Cosmos

When you look at the bottom of the cosmological  diagram, at this man or humanity, what Muhammed actually does is develop a four-part anthropology with the whole human race divided into four categories, into those who have a book, those who do not have a book, a Muslim who has the pure book, or those who have rejected it. You have eternity to receive it. That is basically the breakdown of the Islamic cosmology.

A. Seen and Unseen

The cosmos,  as we mentioned, is divided into the seen and the unseen world. This is explicitly stated in the Qur’an. For example, in Surah 39:46 and 47. It clearly says there, “Say, Lord, creator of the heavens and the earth, you have knowledge of the visible and the unseen. You alone can judge the disputes of your servants.” This is becoming very typical in the Qur’an. Allah reigns over both the visible and the unseen realm. The visible realm is the al-shahdda. The unseen realm, the al-ghayb.  They clearly have this cosmology.

B. Present world and hereafter

They also have in their theology clearly difference between the present age and the age to come. This is where we are going to see some significant differences between the Christian and the Muslim views of the age to come. In both Muslim and Christian views there is the present age and there is the eschatological  age, where in both cases they are looking for the return of Christ. That is, there is no basic difference in the eschatological framework. There will be a period of darkening evil at the end of time and antichrist will appear, who will lead, in that case, the Muslim astray. Many Muslims are led astray by an antichrist figure, who people mistakenly believe is Christ. At the end of time, at the climax of the ages, Christ will return. Christ will judge the world. This is the same in Muslim as well as Christian eschatology.  The only difference is that Christ will judge the world by saying, particularly to us, “Why did you not listen to my prophet I sent to you? I told you I was sending Muhammed,” they interpret the passage. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, we will look later more critically at this – where John’s Gospel says, “Behold, I send you another, a comforter, a parakletos, who will lead you into all truth.” This they interpret, for reasons which we will take more time to explain later, as a reference to Muhammed, not the coming of the Holy Spirit. They believe that Jesus himself was preparing the disciples for the day when Muhammed would come and lead them into all truth. Jesus comes back. Jesus judges them and the world on the basis of  this truth, and then there is a final judgment day, where the world is judged and divided between those who are the saved and the damned. You notice the terms, Jahannam and Jannah. Those are the two terms.

C. Cosmological Model

The big difference, as you can see, is that in the Christian cosmology the age to come has already intersected the present age, again because of the resurrection.  You will notice that the dark line on the Christian side is there to illustrate a border crossing by God into the seen world that is simply impossible in Islam. So if you look on the right, what that should tell you is that cosmologically there are two massive differences between Christianity and Islam. Quite apart from belief, the scholars who study the different religions will say that the two biggest differences are the fact that God has entered the world in Christianity, which is the incarnation; and in the age to come has intersected in the resurrection.

So you actually have the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ as the two most formative differences in the theological framework between Islam and Christianity. That is very, very significant because what that tells you is that there are many similarities between the framework of Islam and Christianity; but it is in fact the Person of Christ which really divides the world view.

So when you talk to Muslims, you will find very quickly the conversation breaks down or in some ways clashes or otherwise, based on our and their perspectives on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. They do believe he was a prophet. They accept at that level Christ’s presence. They believe Christ will come again. They believe Christ was born sinless, and all kinds of things on which they will agree with you. When it comes to the affirmation that Christ is God in the flesh and the resurrection, this actually gives us an insight into the world to come. In the way that Muslims view, it is a completely dark hole, there is very little information. They don’t know much about the age to come. We believe that we can know at least some key things about the age to come.

VII. Personal Eschatology: Islamic view of the culmination of the ages.

These are some big differences between the Islamic and Christian eschatology. Let’s say a little bit about one’s personal eschatology and anthropology, and how this relates, and see some of the parallel and differences.

What happens when a Muslim dies? When a Muslim dies, the family or relatives will turn the face of the deceased one toward the ka’aba in Mecca and they will recite the Shahadah in their ear. “There is no god but Allah and Muhammed is the prophet of Allah.” We will look at this later on, but the opening confession of faith, which every Muslim knows, is said in their ear along with the first chapter of the Qur’an, which I mentioned earlier. These are statements that are supposedly the first thing you hear and the last thing you hear when you are born and die, and this is the basic statement of faith. That would of course be different from a Christian. You will have a very important ritual washing called a ghusl.  This is a ritual washing of the body that is given very, believe me, explicit directions in the hadith, how it is to be done, in what order, and what parts. Then you are carried after you are cleansed on an open bier. This of course I’m sure you have seen portrayed on television, if not in person, the open platform that people are carried on in the Muslim world.

Has anybody seen a Muslim funeral, like on television or in person? You notice how the body is seen and exposed. I will explain why. Theologically it is very important for Muslims not to be buried in a coffin or a casket, as we would know it in the West. So they are always carried out into the open air. You notice that you see those processions, there are often great crowds thronged around them, crowds of men. Women are not allowed to carry these biers, or even to follow in the bier’s wake. So you generally will see a lot of men gathered around because it is considered meritorious to help in the carrying of someone’s bier, especially if it is a famous person. When Ayatollah Khomeini or someone passes away, then you have tens of thousands “helping” because they receive merit from this.

The reason they don’t believe in caskets or coffins is because of a theology of a fearful judgment which is taught, which is why this comes into the eschatology and the idea of the afterlife. They believe that within 24 hours after your death – some say a little longer, but within the first couple of days – you are visited by two angels in the grave. This is why Muslims have an insistence  that if you die, you must be buried within 24 hours. Muslims do not allow two, three, four days to go by, as often happens in the West. This has created tremendous anxiety, I think, in the West that can be fully appreciated, when you have the recent disaster where the plane exploded and there were Muslims on board when Egypt Air went down and you could not locate the bodies. From my point of view, it is a tragedy; but we see it as all part of our worldview to absorb that. But in the Muslim world you cannot absorb this. If someone is not actually buried in soft soil in 24 hours, it is a huge theological crisis; because according to Muslim theology, these two angels – the angels’ names are Munkar and– the two angels that visit you in the grave. Normally, Muslims are buried in a pit or a crypt of some kind that is facing toward Mecca, naturally. When the angels come, they believe they should be buried in soft soil because they will be asked to sit up. They can’t be in a coffin because you can’t sit up in a coffin. It is important to sit up, so they are put in very loose soil so that when the angels come, they can sit up. When the angel comes, they will be questioned on two things. They will be questioned about the uniqueness of God and the identity of Muhammed. Again, it is this statement that comes in the final judgment. “Do you believe in any God but Allah?” You say, “No.” “Who is Muhammed?” “Muhammed is a prophet of Allah.” Okay, that’s fine. You have more or less passed this stage of judgment. If you make these affirmations properly, then you can rest until judgment day when Christ comes, the resurrection. You will be accepted on the same basis and cosmology status that we have. If you do not pass the test, supposedly you are at that stage where you can’t pull off a lie. You might have been a Muslim, you say you belonged to community and they buried you as a Muslim. But when the angel spoke to you, if you said, “Well actually in my heart I have also given allegiance to these other gods,” immediately your soul is taken for judgment, right then and there. This is referred to as the “chastisement “ or “the torment in the tomb” is the term they use for this.

The Qur’an itself – maybe this is a stretch – but there are people, even Muslims by the way, who have questioned whether or not these texts support this particular doctrine. But these are a few passages which are mentioned in the Qur’an that support this. I will read the passages  briefly: “We will chastise them twice. Then if they turn back, to a grievous chastisement.” The idea of chastising twice is believed to be the confrontation in the tomb or in the ground, and then also on judgment day. Then Qur’an chapter 32:21 says, “Most certainly we will make them take of the nearer chastisement before the greater chastisement.” Again, this is an interpretation that the confrontation in the soil or in the tomb or whatever, is the nearer chastisement  and the last day judgment is the greater chastisement. It also draws some theology from 23:99 to 101. This is a passage which basically teaches that there is a barrier, that Allah has put a barrier which prevents people who have died from coming back to this world. This is a comparable parallel, indeed a biblical parallel. This is the way you parallel, the New Testament says that it is appointed once that you die, and after that comes judgment. It is that kind of statement in the Qur’an theologically.

What they do is teach that there are people who are in the grave when Munkar and Nakir come down. They say, “Hey, listen. I really should have made a pilgrimage to Mecca, but I didn’t.” Or, “I really should have prayed more than I did. Please let me go back and I can more or less improve my status a little bit.” Allah in that text says, “No. I have a barrier set up. Righteousness must be done in this life, there is no second chance.” Again, if you can imagine, the same kind of doctrines discussed  in Christian theology around that text have occurred among the Muslims. So there are a lot of similarities there.

That is kind of a pre-judgment which occurs, looking toward the final judgment. As I mentioned, they do believe that there will be two figures that will return at the end of time. Actually, one which we will look at later, I will mention this only to have it in your mind. It is a Mahdi figure, which is a Messianic figure, which will come in the al-Qiyamah.  Then the coming of an antichrist who will be a false Messiah, who will lead people astray. So this is a figure that has a similar kind of language as you find the antichrist language in the New Testament, those kinds of “man of lawlessness” or whatever.

In the case of Muslim theology, this antichrist leads them astray for a period of  40 years. Again, a good solid Jewish number. It’s always good using 40, you need a number. If you are familiar with Judaism, this is helpful to the ears. Then, it’s a commentary on the true Christ’s return. Again, amazingly, you have the Jews looking for Messiah to come; the Christians looking for the return of Christ; the Muslims looking for the return of Christ; all of the great monotheistic religions of the world, looking for the coming of Christ. It is quite remarkable theologically.

Christ will come back to the nation. He will slay with the sword his enemies. It is specifically mentioned that Christ will return with a sword, restore righteousness,  chastise the Christians for not believing in the prophet. Then there will be a final, climactic day, judgment day, resurrection day. The language that is used, by the way, as you can tell is influenced by biblical language. He talks about books being opened, your deeds recorded in books. A lot of that kind of language that we have heard in our own reading is there. Probably the only difference is the idea of weighing is not so much in the Christian theology. In Muslim theology there is actually a weighing of your works. So Allah puts your good works on one scale and your evil works on another. This is found in 23:102-104. Jesus’ scales are heavy, in this case with good works. They are to prosper. Jews’ scales are light, they have lost their souls in Gehenna,  groaning forever, the fire smiting their faces while they dwell there. There is no language or words in describing the horrors of hell. This is not a user friendly book, it is extremely graphic. Surah 57, you literally march to hell, Jahannam, believers going to paradise, etc.

That is a very troubling thing because what it actually tells me is not to get ahead of ourselves in terms of witnessing to Muslims. This is a great moment to recognize the fact that with all of the Muslims, in view of God’s holiness, which they love to emphasize, they view the incarnation as a compromise to holiness. In fact, the Christian has a much higher view of God’s holiness than a Muslim does. The Christian is saying that if you have even one sin in your life, however small it may be, one evil thought, you have absolutely no standing before God. The Muslim’s view of God’s grace is that as long as you do one more good work than bad work, then you are acceptable to God. From a Christian viewpoint that is totally reprehensible because we are depraved, we have no good in ourselves. We are acknowledging our total helplessness before God. Therefore, we saying that unless God acts on our behalf, we cannot save ourselves. That is something Muslims find difficult to deal with.

Finally, when questioned, in order to absorb the fact that most Muslims feel greatly troubled about whether their good works would outweigh their bad works; because this is a troubling reality, as it would be to anybody in this room, Muslims have developed a theology, which granted in some ways is found in passing,  the Qur’an and more profoundly the hadith, where you have Allah in some cases who allows people based on grace – this is something that has developed in certain steps of Islam, which we will look at at the end of the course – and in some cases you have Muhammed intercede. He will not intercede for any non-Muslim, anybody in the kafir camp or people of the book or umma, none of those people; but if you are a Muslim who has failed to outweigh your good works and bad works; and if you are poor.

In the hadith it says that if you are poor and you have been denied the comforts of the earthly life, then Muhammed will intercede for you and Allah will allow you into heaven based on Muhammed’s intercession.  This is an amazing theology of Muhammed, by the way. That is totally out of step with so many views about Muhammed. But you can see how they kind of in some ways try to respond to this obvious discrepancy in the facts of people’s lives before Allah, the holiness of Allah and this idea of weighing good works and bad works.

This gives you at least a little feel for how the anthropology and the eschatology are meeting in the life of a typical Muslim.