Monday, June 1, 2009

The Bahai and the Mormon

I've been thinking and writing lately about two related matters. First is that Muslims in the West present a sugar-coated version of Islam that would scarcely be recognized in the heartland of the Middle East. Second is that Muslims in both the East and the West easily throw out "facts" that the average person is unprepared to counter.

Both of these subjects can be seen in this recent discussion on Egyptian TV. A well-respected Shaykh argued that Bahais anywhere and everywhere should be killed. For him, the matter was simple. Muhammad said that anyone who changed his religion should be killed. The Bahais had abandoned Islam for a new religion, and for that reason should die.

The Bahai movement began in Iran in the 19th century. They follow a new prophet, Bahaullah, with sacred texts and teachings they see as complimentary to Islam. Their relationship to Islam is similar to the relationship of Mormons in America to Christianity. Mormons also follow a 19th century prophet with a new scripture they see supplementing the Bible. Just as Bihais see themselves as completed Muslims, Mormons believe they are following the true version of Christianity. And just as many Muslims are reluctant to accept Bihais as Muslims, conservative Christians are unwilling to see Mormons as just another Christian denomination.

The comparison stops here. I haven't yet heard any Christian leader arguing that all Mormons should be killed. But here's my problem; I also haven't heard Muslims in America argue that all Bihais should be killed, even though they are as aware of Muhammad's punishment for apostasy as are Muslims in Egypt. Why does the Muslim academic in America not proclaim the same Islam as the Muslim scholar in Cairo?

In the same TV interview, another Shaykh argued that Bahaism cannot be true because no prophet prophesied the coming of Bahaullah. True prophets, the Shaykh claimed, always announce the prophets who will come after them. Moses prophesied the arrival of Jesus, and Jesus prophesied the coming of Muhammad.

There's the "fact", so casually thrown out and believed by hundreds of millions, that simply is not true. As usual, the Muslim begins with the Quran and then tries to prove his assertion with evidence from outside the Quran. According to Quran 61:6, Jesus said:

Oh children of Israel, I am the Messenger of Allah to you,
Confirming the Torah which came before me,
And giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me,
Whose name is Ahmad.

For the believing Muslim, that's enough. "Ahmad" and "Muhammad" both come from the Arabic root H-M-D, which means to praise. Even though Ahmad and Muhammad are different names, they both mean "The One Who is Praised". That's close enough for the Muslim to be convinced that Jesus prophesied the coming of Muhammad.

(There is a slight problem for the Muslim even with this verse. Although the name "Muhammad" was common among the Arabs before Muhammad, there is little evidence of the name "Ahmad" being used. The many derivatives of H-M-D that are common Arabic names today including Ahmad, Hamed, Hameed, Hamdi, Hamudi, and Mahmud only began to be widely used after Muhammad).

The Muslim who wants to convince the sceptic from extra Quranic sources next enters the slippery road of Islamic apologetics. In John 14:6 and related verses, Jesus promised that "the Comforter" would come after he left. This has been universally understood by Christians to refer to the Holy Spirit who arrived with miraculous signs upon the early Church in Jerusalem soon after the departure of Jesus.

The Greek word used for this Comforter is "paracletos". The problem for the Muslim is that this word has no linguistic relationship to "Ahmad" or "The One Who is Praised". There is, however, a similar Greek word "periklutos" which does mean praised. Muslims conclude that "periklutos" must have been in the original test but was changed to "paracletos" by nefarious Christian scribes to deliberately obliterate Jesus' reference to Muhammad. The fact that no early Christian text, nor any text at all for that matter, contains "periklutos" in reference to Jesus' prophesy of the Comforter, is unfortunately irrelevant to the Muslim scholar.

Muhammad and Death

My Islamics professor at Temple University, Sayyid Hussein Nasr, once told us that Muslims face death with more courage than people in the West.

A Muslim scholar recently presented "The Details of Death", in which he presented a glowing picture of the experience of death for Muslims in contrast to the horrors of death for the nonbeliever. The question to be asked is, "Why did Muhammad package death in such an attractive way for his followers?"

The simple answer is that Muhammad called men to die. Included in their willingness to follow him was the belief that dying for him would give them rewards from Allah.

One of Muhammad's early disciples, Abbas ibn Ubada, understood this well. He and his associates realized that following Muhammad would mean fighting and death. When they asked Muhammad what their reward would be, Islam's prophet gave a one word reply, "Paradise."

Ibn Ishaq's full biography of Muhammad, which I would guess not one Muslim in a thousand has read, gives a detailed history of the many raids that Muhammad either led or sent his followers to fight. It is impossible to carefully read the account of these battles and honestly conclude they were in any way defensive. Story after story begins, "The apostle stayed only seven nights in Medina before he himself made a raid against Beni Sulaym", or "After the apostle returned from the raid of Al Sawiq, he stayed in Medina for the rest of the month and then raided Najd", or "From Al Ula, the apostle sent his forces to Syria where they met with disaster at Muta."

Hundreds of men died in these battles. They sacrified their lives for Muhammad's dreams of expansion and power. What better way to motivate them than giving them promises from Allah of the paradise awaiting them if they died? What better way to manipulate people today to follow the same Muhammad than by promising them a glorious experience of death in contrast to the horrible fate that awaits those who do not obey him?