Good evening! Welcome come to the debate this evening! It’s good to be here! Tonight we’ve come together to discuss what is perhaps the most important question that a human being can ask: What must I do to be saved?
For Muslims and Christians agree that your answer to that question will be of decisive significance for determining your eternal destiny. Now, in my opening speech I want to do three things. First, to note some points of agreement between Muslims and Christians concerning our need of salvation. Second, to contrast the Muslim and Christian teachings, or doctrines, of salvation. Thirdly, to offer some criticisms of the Muslim teaching or doctrine.
So, let’s start by noting some points of agreement. It’s worth noting at the outset that Muslims and Christians do agree in contrast to, say, Buddhists or Hindus that salvation is something that human beings need. We don’t need to be merely enlightened as Eastern religions claim; rather, we need to be saved! Saved from what? Well, from sin of course! That is from our transgression of God’s moral law. From our moral failures in thought, word, and deed. Every one of us has failed to live up to God’s moral law. The Bible says that “all men . . . are under the power of sin, as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; . . . All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.' . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And the Qur’an agrees. It says, “If God punished men for their sins, not one creature would be left alive.” As a result of their sin, all men are morally guilty before the all holy and all righteous God, and so find themselves under his condemnation. Jesus taught that one of the main roles of the Spirit of God is to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. The Qur’an is graphic in its depiction of God’s judgment upon sinners. It says,
Hell will lie in ambush, a home for the transgressors. There they shall abide. There they shall taste neither refreshment nor any drink save scalding water and decaying filth, a fitting recompense.
So, Muslims and Christians agree on the need for salvation. We both affirm the universality of sin, the absolute holiness and perfect justice of God and the reality of impending judgment. In view of these truths we ask, what must I do to be saved?
The answers given to that question by Muslims and Christians are as different as night and day, and therefore they cannot both be true. So, let’s turn to my second main point: the contrast between the Muslim and Christian doctrines, or teachings, of salvation.
The teaching of Qur’an is basically this: Turn to God, believe and do righteous deeds and as a result on the judgment day God in his mercy will forgive you and give you what you have earned. The Qur’an repeatedly promises salvation to those who believe and do righteous deeds. For example, it says,
Those who submit to God and accept the true Faith; who are devout, sincere, patient, humble, charitable, and chaste; who fast and are ever mindful of God–on these, both men and women, God will bestow forgiveness and a rich recompense.
On the Muslim view it is by means of one’s righteous deeds that one earns salvation. This is evident in the Qur’an's repeated use of the language of earning kasaba and receiving wages (adger)[sp?]. For example, it says “every soul shall have the reward it earns and it shall get the punishment it incurs.” Or again, “every soul shall be paid in full for what it has done for he knows full well all that they did.” Or again, “he whose good deeds lie heavy in the scales shall dwell in bliss. But he whose deeds are light, the abyss shall be his home.”
Now, the Christian doctrine of salvation is completely different. On the Christian view, salvation is a free gift of God’s grace. Grace means God’s unmerited favor. Salvation cannot be earned. It can only be gratefully received as a gift. The Bible says, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not the result of works, lest anyone should boast.”
What is faith? Faith means personal trust or commitment to God. Faith is not a work which we perform in order to merit salvation. Rather, it is simply the means of receiving it. Genuine faith, however, does result in good works or righteous deeds. Righteous deeds are the fruit or the evidence of a transformed life—the result of being saved, not the basis on which one is saved as in Islam.
Now, this raises the question, if our righteous deeds are not the basis of our salvation, what is? On what basis can a holy and righteous God forgive sinners? The answer is Jesus Christ. Having lived a sinless life, Jesus died on the cross for our sins thereby procuring our atonement (or reconciliation) with God. Like the Passover lamb, which Jews offered to God as a sacrifice for sin, so Christ offered his unblemished life to God as a sacrificial offering for the sin of humanity. Contrasting the Jewish sacrifices with Christ’s supreme sacrifice, the Bible says,
He is not like other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day for his own sins first and then for the sins of the people. . . . He offered one sacrifice once and for all when he offered himself. He did not take the blood of goats and calves to offer a sacrifice; rather he took his own blood and obtained an eternal salvation for us. He offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to God. For this reason, Christ is the one who arranges a new covenant so that those who have been called by God may receive the eternal blessings that God has promised.
In summary then, on the Christian view, salvation comes by God’s grace, through our faith, on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial death. In a nutshell, the basic difference between the Muslim and Christian doctrines of salvation is that Islam teaches salvation by good works whereas Christianity teaches salvation by grace.
So, the obvious question is, which one is true? In my third and final point I want to offer three reasons why I think the Muslim doctrine of salvation is not true.
1) The Muslim doctrine of salvation is based upon a morally deficient concept of God. Muslims and Christians agree that God is the greatest conceivable being. If there were anything that you could conceive of that were greater than God then that would be God! So, God has to be the greatest conceivable being. Now, besides being all-powerful, all-knowing, and so forth, the greatest conceivable being must also be all-loving, morally perfect. God must be a loving and gracious being for it’s obviously morally better to be loving rather than unloving. Therefore, God, as the perfect being, must be all-loving. This is exactly what the Bible affirms. The Bible says, “God is love.” “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the sacrifice for our sins.” Or again, it says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
Jesus taught God’s unconditional love for sinners. We see this in his parables about the prodigal son and the lost sheep. In his practice of table fellowship with the immoral and the unclean and in his sayings like those of the Sermon on the Mount. He said, for example, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . For if you love those who love you, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the pagans do the same? . . . You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The love of the heavenly Father is impartial, universal, and unconditional.
What a contrast with the God of the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, God does not love sinners. This fact is emphasized repeatedly and consistently like a drumbeat throughout the pages of the Qur’an. Just listen to the following passages drawn at random from various suras:
“God loves not unbelievers.”
“God loves not the impious and sinful.”
“God loves not evildoers.”
“God loves not the proud.”
“God loves not transgressors.”
“God loves not the prodigal.”
“God loves not the treacherous.”
“God is an enemy to unbelievers.”
Over and over again the Qur’an declares that God does not love the very people that the Bible says God loves so much that he sent his only Son to die for them!
Now this may seem paradoxical in light of the Qur'an's calling God “al-Rahman al-Rahim” – the All-Merciful – until you realize that according to the Qur'an what God's mercy really cashes out to is that if you believe and do righteous deeds, then God can be counted on to overlook your sins and reward your good works. According to the Qur’an, God’s love is thus reserved only for those who earn it. It says, “To those who believe and do righteousness, God will assign love.”
So the Qur’an assures us of God’s love for the God-fearing and the good-doers; but he has no love for sinners or unbelievers. Thus, in the Islamic conception, God is not all-loving. His love is partial and has to be earned. The Muslim God only loves those who first love him. His love thus rises no higher than the love that Jesus said even tax-collectors and pagans exhibit.
Now don’t you think that this is an inadequate conception of God? What would you think of a parent who said to his children, “If you measure up to my standards and do as I say, then I will love you”? Some of you have had parents like that, who didn’t give you unconditional love, and you know the emotional scars you bear as a result. As the greatest conceivable being, the most perfect being, the source of all goodness and love, God’s love must be unconditional and impartial. Therefore, the Islamic conception of God seems to me to be morally deficient. Therefore. I cannot agree to it.
2) On the Muslim doctrine of salvation, the demands of God’s justice go unmet. Muslims and Christians agree that God is absolutely holy and just as he must be if he is the greatest conceivable being. His justice is essential to his very nature and cannot be compromised. For that reason, God cannot simply blink at sin. If he were to allow some evil to go unpunished he would not be absolutely just. For that reason, the concept of an absolutely just and holy God is as Martin Luther rightly saw, a terrifying prospect. No sin, no matter how small, not even a little lie, can escape his purview. Every sin must receive its just due, otherwise God’s justice would be compromised and he would not be absolutely holy.
Now the Christian doctrine of salvation makes sense of God’s justice because Christ died for our sins in order to meet the demands for God’s justice. Since our sins have been fully paid for by Christ’s sacrificial death, God does not compromise his justice or holiness when he pardons our sin.
By contrast, on the Muslim view, the demands of God’s justice go unfulfilled. God simply pardons the sins of the saved without exacting any payment or penalty for their sins. So there remains sin in the universe which ultimately goes unpunished, and this is incompatible with absolute justice. Not every sin gets its due. Some wrongs are simply overlooked. Thus, if he is merciful, Allah cannot at the same time be absolutely just. His justice and mercy are at loggerheads with each other. If he shows mercy, he can only do so at the expense of his justice. The Muslim doctrine of salvation thus compromises God’s holiness.
Ironically then, it turns out that not only is Allah not all-loving as we’ve seen, but neither is he all-just. The Muslim doctrine of salvation implies that God is neither all-loving nor all-just.
3) Finally, the Muslim doctrine of salvation makes salvation virtually unattainable. If we must earn our salvation by our right belief and righteous deeds, what hope is there of salvation? Recall, that the Qur’an promises salvation to those who are “devout, sincere, patient, humble, charitable, and chaste, who fast and are ever mindful of God.” Well, honestly, how do you measure up? Do you think that that describes you? Would your friends say that that describes you? How will you stand before the judgment seat of an almighty God? In the biblical book of Romans, Paul puts a number of questions to his Jewish opponents, which I believe Paul would also put to any Muslim today. He writes in effect, “But if you call yourself a Muslim and rely upon the law and boast of your relationship to God and know his will, you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, do you dishonor God by breaking the Law? For as it is written, the name of God is blasphemed among the pagans because of you!” Paul concludes, “We know that everything in the Law applies to those who live under the Law in order to stop all human excuses and bring the whole world under God’s judgment. For no man is put right in God’s sight by doing what the Law requires. What the Law does is to make man know that he has sinned.”
In other words, the Law serves only to condemn, not to save. The Muslim plan of salvation by works is therefore a counsel of despair leading only to condemnation. Ask yourself, “Are you ready to stand before God’s judgment throne relying on your righteousness alone to save you.” If you’re honest, you know that you need a savior. You need Christ, God’s perfect sacrifice for sin.
 Romans 3:9-12,23
 cf. Qur’an 16:61
 cf. Qur’an 78:21-26
 cf. Qur’an 33:35
 cf. Qur’an 2:286
 cf. Qur’an 39:70
 cf. Qur’an 101:6-9
 Ephesians 2:8-9
 cf. Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:12-15
 1 John 4:8b
 1 John 4:10
 Romans 5:8
 Matthew 5:43-48
 cf. Qur’an 3:33
 cf. Qur’an 2:277
 cf. Qur’an 3:58
 cf. Qur’an 4:37
 cf. Qur’an 5:88
 cf. Qur’an 6:142
 cf. Qur’an 8:59
 cf. Qur’an 2:99
 cf. Qur’an 19:97
 Hello everyone. Thank you, Dr. Craig for a wonderful presentation and a beautiful summation of the Islamic doctrine of sin and salvation. I want to apologize to all of you folks for my tardiness today. It might give you the impression that I drove all the way from Atlanta, but I do apologize for that.
I begin by praising God, the Creator of the heavens and the Earth and I thank him for giving us the opportunity to explore tonight together his plan of salvation for all humankind.
What is the Qur’anic doctrine of human salvation before God? The Qur’an tells us that God created human beings for a purpose. That purpose is said as worshiping God and in Islam the idea of worship is more comprehensive than just simply involving in prayer. We see our whole life as a worship of God and living under God’s rule and law and trying to please God is our way of worshipping God continuously, not just simply during the prayers. We understand that this worship will continue in paradise where we will live in God’s presence and our worship then will be as natural as our breathing.
The Qur’an also tells us in Sura 11 verse 119 that God created humankind for his mercy [Arabic]. He created them for that, for his mercy. So God’s plan then is to extend his mercy to humankind. But Sura 7 verse 156 warns us that that mercy will be given to those people who fear God, who pay the charity and, in basic terms, who try to be good before God.
The Qur’an shows us that God created human beings and what we refer to as the fitra, or the natural way. And the Qur’an enjoins upon us that we should keep out faces straight on that path of the fitra, or the natural way. I envisioned this as if God has put all human beings on, say, one straight highway leading to paradise. But that highway has many exit lanes and at these exit lanes there are callers trying to persuade us to take these exits. So, imagine us going along the 401 towards paradise, if I should use a human example, and there is the promise of the city life. There’s the glitter and the glamor of the city lights and billboards inviting us, promising us wine, women, and song if you like. And some people will take these exits and God sends messengers and prophets to call these people back to the original highway to lead them back to paradise. Some of the people will come back but eventually people will become so caught up in what they’re doing, so addicted to their sins, that they will not listen to the prophets and messengers. These are the people about whom the Qur’an says that God has sealed their hearts. In fact, the Qur’an says [Arabic] their hearts are sealed and rusted because of the evil of what they used to do.
So, in other words, people trap themselves away from the mercy of God. Naturally we cannot blame God for what people have done for themselves, but God’s grace is there extending to humankind again and again. And God promises his forgiveness to anyone who will turn back to him repentant and seeking forgiveness for their sins. If anyone should die in that state of sin, it is still in God’s prerogative, we learn from the Qur’an and from the sayings of the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, that he can actually forgive human beings. There is one sin that the Qur’an speaks about as the unforgivable sin. That is the sin of ascribing partners to God—considering that God, let’s say there are other beings to be worshiped in addition to, alongside with God, or instead of God.
Well, when the Qur’an speaks about the punishments that God has in store for human beings are when the Qur’an uses threats or when the Qur’an says that God does not love certain people. Muslim scholars take this to mean that God is trying in some way to reach out to these people who need threats, who need something harsh to be said to them to bring the back to the right path. On the other hand, we understand that, in fact, God in some way loves all human beings and he wants to extend his mercy to all human beings. But he speaks harshly to some. You can relate to this because you can understand from 2 Samuel that God said he will actually whip his son in order to bring him back to the good. 2 Samuel 7:14 and following. So the idea here is that God threatens human beings – “Now, look, if you’re not good, I don’t love you” – in order to bring them back. Even human parents do that sometimes. Sometimes we say, “Look, if you don’t shape up you’re not my son” in order to bring that child back to the right way.
Now is it difficult to earn salvation in the Islamic understanding? I would say no. The Qur’an speaks of the scales being weighed. If one scale is heavy with good deeds as compared with evil deeds, then one enters paradise. Is it easy to earn good deeds? Yes. In fact, Muslims think about the intention that we have to do a good. There is a Hadith related from the prophet Mohammad, that he said that if a person intends to do a good deed, it is immediately written for him in his record that he has done it. Or, rather to correct myself, it is written for him as a full good deed. And if he actually does it then it’s written for him ten times or even seven hundred times, or somewhere in between. If, on the other hand, he intends to do an evil, it is not written against him until he does it. And when he does it, it is written against him as one evil. But if in fact he turned away from that intention and he did not complete that evil act then it is written for him as a full good deed.
So then salvation in Islam then, if we understand Islam properly, is in fact very easy and is open to anyone who would want to seek that salvation. Of course, if somebody does not want to seek that salvation and he wishes to turn away, then this is something for which he/she will have no one to blame but one’s self.
The Qur’an in fact speaks about salvation in some very general terms as requiring almost just simply, in a nutshell, belief in God. For example, Sura 41 verse 30, the Qur’an says [Arabic], “As for those who say my Lord is Allah alone and they remain steadfast upon that, then the angels will descend upon such a person and say to them, ‘You shall have no fear nor grief coming upon you, but in fact, good news [Arabic] of the paradise which has been prepared for you.’” So only belief in God is mentioned here and being steadfast on that belief in God.
There is a Hadith in Sahih Muslim, which says that the prophet Mohammad said that, “Whoever dies knowing that there was no God but Allah will enter paradise.” But Muslim scholars want to make sure that people do not get the wrong understanding. That they can simply say, “Yeah, I believe and I have nothing to do and I’ll be saved.” So, Muslim scholars emphasize those verses, and in fact the Qur’an itself emphasizes, that Muslims should not just simply say they believe but they should follow up that belief with action. In fact, reason also dictates that our actions will flow out of our belief, and if we have a firm belief and a proper commitment with God then the actions we perform actually will show whether our commitment and belief is with God.
Now, having said this much I want to offer some comments on some of the criticisms Dr. Craig has levied against the Islamic view. Dr. Craig thinks 1) the Islamic view of God is morally deficient because the Qur’an says that God does not love this or that person. I’ve already shown that, in fact, the threats given in the Qur’an are for the good purpose of bringing human beings back to the right way. But if you want to insist that the literal text says that God does not love these people and that would mean that God is deficient, consider this passage from the Bible in Psalm 5:4-6 where it specifically says that God hates evildoers. So, if we consider then that the Islamic view of God is morally deficient because it says that God hates certain evildoers what are we to say then about the biblical view of God, which says that God hates evildoers.
Dr. Craig finds a problem with justice in Islam. How do we understand that God is just in Islam? Well, in fact, I do not see a difficulty with God’s justice and mercy. If we understand justice properly, for one to be just, that is not contrary to mercy. Think about it for a moment. Suppose you get a traffic ticket and you go before a judge and you explain your circumstances and the judge listens to that and says, “Yeah, okay, I believe you. Your wife was on the verge of delivery and you were dropping her off to the hospital, right?” But if the judge believes you, the judge can have mercy on you, can understand your circumstances, and can actually forgive you. He can lessen the fine. He can cancel the ticket all together. That is not contrary to justice. A judge can work within a certain scope and extend forgiveness of sins. There may be certain things the judge cannot forgive and that is because when we think of human judges these judges have to report back to a certain authority who would have to give them permission in advance to extend that justice. But in the case of God, God is his own judge and he can extend forgiveness to anyone that he wants. The Qur’an says, [Arabic] “My mercy encompasses everything.” There is a Hadith in which it is said that God has written for himself mercy. He has prescribed for himself that he will be merciful to human beings. So, if God decides to forgive sins, this is within God’s prerogative and I do not see that there is a tension between mercy and justice. God could be merciful to people and that would not offend against his justice.
On the other hand, I do not believe that the Christian solution to this tension between mercy and justice is a real solution. Recall that in order to get rid of sins, what Dr. Craig has told us in fact, is that Jesus had to die for our sins. That means, in fact, that in order for God to forgive the guilty persons, God had to penalize an innocent individual. In fact, his own Son. And this is connected with a number of problems. For example, we shall ask now, does God love his Son? In fact, the Bible says that he does. And the Bible says that God loves the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his Son.” But then, what about the love for the Son? Now consider the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, is said to have come and die for us. Now, when we think of God then, we must think of God as the absolute demander of justice whose need for justice will not be satisfied until his Son comes and dies for us. Now, we must definitely love the Son for what he has done for us. But some Christian theologians have raised a question: in that case how could we love the Father as much as we love the Son who died for us? You see there are insuperable difficulties and problems with this. Moreover, if you think of God’s eternal plan for salvation, God creating the universe and in advance knowing what is going to happen in his universe, then how do you explain the fact that God has this plan, which makes it appear that he is caught unaware. In fact, some Christian theologians as Bernard Marthaler has said in his book The Creed, have even said that it seems as though God has painted himself into a corner. You must understand how this analogy works. You know if we are going to paint the floor of this room then we start from the back wall and paint all the way out to the door. But if we start from the door and paint our way this way then we will end up at the back wall or into a corner and will have no where to go except to walk on the wet paint. So is this the understanding of God? How did this come about in Christianity? If Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are sister religions, if they share a common religious heritage, how did it so happen that Dr. Craig can stand here tonight and say that the Islamic concept is diametrically opposed to the Christian concept. How did they become two different concepts? Is the Islamic concept diametrically opposed to the concept in Judaism? I don’t think so. So how did Christianity become something different from what Judaism and [Islam] is in the general sense of understanding God’s grace and his demand for the works that we should do to deserve that grace?
James Dunn, a colleague of Dr. Craig, has in fact traced the history of Christianity and tells us in his book The Evidence for Jesus how the original Christianity became split up into a variety of Christian forms—Gentile Christianity, for example, and Jewish Christianity on the other hand. Jewish Christianity did not survive for long but Gentile Christianity became the Christianity—I’d like to suggest this book for further reading. It is particularly in Gentile Christianity that owes a lot to the teachings and preachings of Paul that we have these ideas that Dr. Craig has represented here tonight. However, if we go back to some of the teachings that survive from Jewish Christianity, for example Matthew 5:17-48, we will see there was a sort of an emphasis on doing the commands of God. In the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, on verses 17-22, it says here, there are two common exegetical strategies for evading the plain meaning of this text. 1) By interpretation and 2) by denying the authenticity. In other words, Christian scholars are confronted with this text, which seems to be speaking about an Islamic doctrine or a Jewish-Christian doctrine and they wonder what to do with it. So, they have two strategies. This commentary goes on to say, “This latter approach contains much truth apart from verse 18 the verses are probably post-Pascal and reflect the outlook of Jewish Christianity, which as a separate movement was eventually defeated by Paulinism and died out, perhaps to be reborn in a different form as Islam.” And then they mention a few other source documents that confirm that view. And this is in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary p. 641.
So, folks, I would like to submit to you that the original understanding of the doctrine of God’s grace and his salvation for human beings is a doctrine that did not involve the problems I have described in Christianity. The problems that Dr. Craig saw in the Muslim view are in fact not problems as I have explained, and if one were to see these as problems in Islam one would actually have to turn around and criticize his Bible instead. But to understand why Christianity came to adopt these problematic views, I have said that Christianity owes a lot to the teachings of St. Paul, which spearheaded that different view. I would like to invite Dr. Craig to consider carefully coming back to that original view, which is there in Judaism, which survived in Islam, and which was there among Jewish Christians.
Thank you very much.
You’ll remember in my opening speech I offered three criticisms of the Muslim doctrine of salvation on the basis of which I argue that it cannot be true. Now when offering these criticisms it’s important that you understand that I’m presupposing two conditions of adequacy for any adequate doctrine of salvation.
First of all, that doctrine must be compatible with the essential attributes of God. If your doctrine of salvation is incompatible with the essential attributes of God then it cannot be true because it means that that God cannot exist and offer that plan of salvation because they’re logically incompatible.
The second condition of adequacy is that it must make salvation obtainable for a wide number of people; otherwise it’s not really a doctrine of salvation at all, but simply a doctrine of condemnation.
My argument is that the Qur’anic doctrine of salvation does not meet these two conditions of adequacy for an adequate doctrine of salvation.
First I argued that the Muslim doctrine of salvation is predicated upon a morally deficient concept of God. Because God is the greatest conceivable being, he must be all-loving, but the Qur’an teaches that God clearly does not love unbelievers and sinners; on the contrary his love is conditional and partial. Now, here Shabir Ally responds by saying, “God is simply speaking harshly to them. He’s trying to warn them and reach out to them.” I think that’s simply not a plausible interpretation of these passages. It’s very clear in Islamic theology that God’s love is conditional, that he loves those who love him, who place their faith in him, who do good works and righteous deeds, and he loves them in response. But the Qur’an is emphatic over and over again in saying that God does not love unbelievers.
To understand the conditional nature of God’s love listen to Sura 3:32-33. “Say, if you love God follow me and God will love you and forgive your sins.” Do you see the order? You love God, follow Mohammad, and then God will love you in turn. “Say, obey God and the messenger, but if they turn their backs God loves not the unbelievers.” So the Qur’an is very clear in saying that God does not love sinners and unbelievers, and Shabir himself, elsewhere, admits this. In one of his website articles he writes as follows:
. . . although God is full of loving kindness He does not love sinners who refuse to change. We know from the Qur'an that Allah does not like the following categories of people:
[That’s putting it mildly. The Qur’an says he does not love them]
* mischief makers
* treacherous ingrates
* proud people
* rejecters of God’s message.
And therefore he says that it’s no problem that God punishes such people. He doesn’t love them. He says, on the other hand,
The Qur'an tells us that Allah loves the following categories of people:
* those who do good
* those who repent for their sins
* those who keep themselves clean
* those who fulfil their pledges and are conscious of Allah
* those who are steadfast on the right path
* those who trust in Allah.
Let us therefore ask God to make us deserving of His infinite love.
You see, no Christian could ask God for that because the Christian believes it’s impossible to make yourself deserving of infinite love. No one can merit that kind of salvation, that kind of love. So, clearly by Shabir’s own admission on his website as well as the Qur’anic verses that are quite plain, God literally has no love for unbelievers. His love is therefore conditional. It is like the love of the sinners and the tax collectors who only love those who love them.
Now, he attempts to turn the tables by saying, “But in the Bible in Psalm 5:4-6, it says that God hates evildoers.” I have two responses to this. First of all, notice that love and hate paradoxically are not contradictories. Indeed we will often speak of someone having a love-hate relationship with someone else. These are not contradictories because you can love a person and yet hate certain aspects of his personality, his actions, what he does, what stands for, and so forth. And in Psalm 5 that’s what it’s talking about. It says in Psalm 5, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness, evil will not sojourn with you. The boastful will not stand before your eyes. You hate all evil doers.” So, what the psalmist is saying there is that God hates the wickedness and the evil that these people are engaged in but over and over again the Bible affirms that God loves unbelievers, that he loves all persons, and he pleads with unbelievers to repent and to come to him.
So that love and hate are not contradictories. What is the contradictory of love? Well, it’s not-loving, and that’s what the Qur’an says about God. He does not love these people. But I challenge you to find any verse in the Bible anywhere that says that God does not love sinners, that he does not love unbelievers, that he does not love the wicked. You will find no such passage in the Scriptures.
The second response I want to make is these passages quoted by Shabir Ally about God’s hate are found in the poetic books in the Old Testament, for example, in the Psalms. And everybody knows you cannot base doctrine on poetic expressions because these are emotional, metaphorical, and so forth. If you were to ask the psalmist, “Does God literally hate that person?” I’m sure he would say, “No! That person is a creature of God. He loves the person.” But as the psalmist says, “He does not delight in wickedness and he hates the wickedness that this person is involved in.” So, that God loves sinners but he hates their sin.
So, I do think the Qur’an offers us a morally deficient concept of God because it explicitly and emphatically affirms that God does not love unbelievers and sinners and it nowhere affirms that he does love them. So his love is conditional, it is partial, it is selective, it has to be earned—and that I think is morally reprehensible.
Secondly, the demands of God’s justice go unmet on the Islamic view. Shabir Ally says, “Well, a judge can show mercy to someone in his court.” Yes, and when he does so he does not give that person justice. He gives that person mercy, but he doesn’t give him justice. We don’t say, “Boy, that guy got what was coming to him! He really got justice, didn’t he?” No! He got mercy and that’s the dilemma of the God of the Qur’an. When he shows mercy he must overlook or blink at the sin of those persons. He does not punish them. Therefore, he is not absolutely just. The Christian God does not face this problem because the demands of God’s justice are met by Christ’s sacrificial death, and therefore he is both absolutely just and the justifier of him who has faith in Christ Jesus.
Shabir then again attempts to turn the tables by raising a number of objections. Number one he asks, “Does God love his Son?” Well, of course God loves his Son! And punishment isn’t incompatible with love; every parent knows that fact. Secondly, he asks, “Well, should we love the Father?” Yes! Because the Father sends the Son for our salvation. It is the self-sacrificial gift of God, the gift of Christ’s life that will restore us to fellowship and salvation with God. So, of course we love the Father.
Thirdly, he says, “Wasn’t God caught unawares by this problem?” No! The Bible speaks of this as an eternal plan, which has been realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. It speaks of Christ as the Lamb slain from before the foundations of the world so that God knew that this would be his salvific plan to reconcile humanity to himself.
Finally, Shabir charges that Paul originates this doctrine. That’s simply false. Those verses I quoted in my opening speech were largely not from Paul; they were from the book of Hebrews, which was written by a Jewish Christian. Moreover, Jesus, at the Last Supper, himself prefigured this death on behalf of sinners. When it says in Mark 14:22, “As they were eating the Passover meal, he took some bread and after blessing he broke it and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, this is my body.’ And he took a cup and when he had given thanks he gave it to them and they all drank from it and he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is to be shed on behalf of many.’” And most New Testament scholars recognize that the historical Jesus did celebrate a memorial Passover with his disciples prior to his death in which he figuratively displayed the meaning of the cross to them as the sacrificial Lamb of God being offered for the sins of humanity. So I don’t think that there are any problems raised by Shabir Ally against the Christian view that stand; but on the contrary, it’s very clear on the Islamic view that the demands of justice are not met. In showing mercy, Allah must simply overlook or blink at sin and he is not absolutely just.
Finally, number three; the Islamic doctrine makes salvation virtually unattainable. Here Shabir would have us believe that on Islam salvation is easy. You just believe. Well, I think those of you who are Muslims know that that is not the Qur’anic teaching. Sura 41:30 doesn’t require just belief; it also requires steadfastness and that means a life of good deeds. Over and over again the Qur’an emphasizes this. For example in 3:58, “those who believe and do deeds of righteousness, he will pay them in full their wages.” Or again, in Sura 2:140, “Would you dispute with us about God? We shall both be judged by our works.” Again, Sura 84:26, “Those that believe and do righteous deeds, theirs shall be a wage unfailing.” It is clear that this makes salvation virtually unavailable to us because it is so extraordinarily difficult. All it means on the Qur’an is that God gives you a double coupon-day if you’re a believer – he rewards you double your good deeds and he blinks at your bad deeds. But that doesn’t mean that, therefore, you don’t have to earn salvation. Salvation is earned on the Islamic view and that is going to condemn most people to hell or to the fires of purgatory for thousands of years before God will ever let them into paradise. So I think these three objections remain and therefore constitute, I think, real problems for the Muslim doctrine of salvation on the basis of which I simply do not find it plausible or adequate theologically.
 See “If God is loving, kind, and merciful, why would He punish anyone in Hell?” at http://www.islamcan.com/common-questions-about-islam/if-god-is-loving-kind-and-merciful-why-would-he-punish-anyone-in-hell.shtml (accessed June 10, 2014).
 Thank you, again, Dr. Craig for a wonderful engagement of the ideas that we’re discussing. Folks, I want to respond very quickly to the points that Dr. Craig feels are important in this dialogue. He launches three criticisms against the Islamic view and of course he supplies, in response to that, a Christian understanding that would rescue us from some of these problems.
The first criticism is that, according to him, the God of Islam is not morally as good as in Christianity because one of God’s attributes is that he is loving and in Islam God is not loving. He loves not unconditionally but he loves only certain persons. But in fact if we look at the Qur’an we see that there are what exegetes refer to as general statements and specific statements. And there are certain statements which are shown to be so general that they form an umbrella to interpret other statements which are more specific. Let me explain further.
In the Qur’an in Sura 2 God says, [Arabic] “Surely God is tender and loving to all humankind.” Now that’s a general statement. If there are certain statements that say that God does not love certain persons then that is a more specific statement that falls under the general umbrella. So God’s eternal attribute is still there, that he is loving, he is kind, he is merciful. When Muslims repeat this [Arabic] they’re continually stressing the mercy and the kindness of God. The Qur’an also describes God as the [Arabic] and that says he is this. So that tells us that this is one of his names, his attributes. This is what God is.
Now certainly there are verses in the Qur’an which says, “Yes, if you follow Mohammad God will love you.” That does not mean that God does not love other people. It just simple means that God is reaching out to people and telling them how to merit his love. God is giving us a chance to shake hands with him, to reach out. A Hadith explaining this says that when a person takes one step towards God, or when one goes one arm’s length towards God, God comes towards him the full width. If one comes to God walking, God comes to him running. So God gives us an opportunity to participate in that plan.
Dr. Craig has read my website, and I’m very happy for that, and he has noticed that on my website I have an article in which I have repeated some of the very statements he has quoted from the Qur’an. And I have never denied these statements tonight or any other time. I’m just explaining what these statements mean. When the Qur’an says, or I say, that God does not love evildoers, it just simply means that this is God’s way of reaching out to people and saying, “You have a chance to merit God’s love by not being an evildoer.” Surely, God loves everyone in a certain basic way but if you turn to God repentant, seeking his mercy then he will love you in a more special way. Even Christians believe that God will send some of his enemies, if you like, into hell where they will dwell in that fire for eternity. Are you saying that God loves these people in the same way that he loves those whom he will put in paradise?
Now, Psalm 5:5-6 has been interpreted by Dr. Craig in a way that I am not convinced with. He says that love and hate are not contradictory. In whose language is this? In fact, he says that another way of looking at this is that God does not hate the evildoers but God hates the evil that they do. Yes, the Bible does say that God hates the evil, it says that in Psalm 5:5, “For you O God delight not in wickedness, no evil man remains with you, the arrogant may not stand in your sight. You hate all evildoers.” This verse does not say that God hates the evil; it says that God hates the evildoers. Obviously, God isn’t going to send the evil into hell, God is going to send the evildoers into hell. So I find that explanation disconcerting.
Now Dr. Craig tells us that – and I don’t mean to be facetious. I mean, we’re doing this in the spirit of understanding. I respect Dr. Craig as a great scholar, and I have learned considerably from him, especially in the manner of debating with atheists. And, in fact, since we met last night we’ve been having wonderful conversations and sharing our thoughts, and I’ve continued to learn from him. I expect this will be an ongoing and continuous relationship. So, we’re just doing this in the spirit of dialogue, let’s understand that. Now Dr. Craig says, all right, these Psalms are poetic expressions so they must be understood as poetic expressions. Certainly there’s a certain degree of exaggeration in poetic expressions, and we understand that. But what do you think that the Qur’an is? The Qur’an is a very poetic book. Although it says certain things there we should not always take it literally, but we should try to understand it in the general context of what the Qur’an is telling us all about.
Now Dr. Craig turns to the second point about justice, and he thinks that there’s a problem here in Islam but not in Christianity. He says that if God were to extend mercy to a person then God would not be extending justice. Is that really true? Let’s think about the judge looking at the speeding ticket for a moment. When the judge issues a judgment and says, “Okay, I want to be merciful to you. Okay, you are forgiven.” Isn’t that a just judgment? When the judge listens to the case and decides what judgment to give, do we say that he has been unjust on that occasion? Now, I must clarify, there is a situation in which one person has harmed another person. In Islamic theology it is understood that God is not going to forgive that harm until that person repays it himself or unless God himself gives a compensation to the wronged individual. So, if I steal your money, it is no sense in me asking, “God please forgive me.” God wants me to return that money to you and then ask him for forgiveness and he will forgive me. So forgiveness here has to be sought both ways. But if it so happens that there’s no way in God’s world that I could return that money to you, then God could compensate you for your loss and still forgive me and his treasures would not be diminished and his mercy would not be sacrificed, neither his justice. In fact, his mercy would be extended to all human beings.
So I do not see this problem between justice and mercy here in the Islamic concept. But in the Christian concept I do see a difficulty. I asked, “Does God love his Son?” and Dr. Craig said, “Yes.” But I also asked, “Does God love his Son as much as he loves the world?” This is the whole point of that. And if he loves the world enough to want to spare the world did he not love his Son enough to want to spare his Son? And couldn’t there have been another way that God could have simply forgiven human beings? Wasn’t that within his power to do it? Just to forgive human beings and let his Son also go? Or if his Son decided to take the sin upon himself, couldn’t God have said, “Son, I really love what you want to do for these people and I want to do for them that very thing more than you want to do it for them. As much as you want the people to be forgiven, I also want the same. Let them go and you be free.” You see, God did not have to kill his Son; and this idea, we must explore where it came from.
I had asked, “Should we love the Father?” Not just that. Could we love the Father as much as we love the Son? I think this is what Dr. Craig has not actually answered. Because certainly we must love the Son more is what some Christian theologians have said, and how could this be? Now, Dr. Craig tells us this was God’s eternal plan and it is difficult to conceive that this could have been God’s eternal plan. In fact, if we read the Bible we see the opposite. When God created human beings in Genesis Chapter 1, the chapter ends by saying that God saw that everything he created was good. So how did it come about that human beings would need this sacrifice to save them? Notice that I had not said that Paul originated this belief. I had said that this belief among Christians owes a lot to the preachings and teachings of Paul. There is a difference! Because there could have been other teachers along with Paul in that social-cultural milieu in the Greco-Roman world who would have similar ideas, and these ideas eventually remained in Christianity. To show that it is not Paul alone who taught these things, Dr. Craig cited the book of Hebrews but we do not know who wrote the book of Hebrews! And for a long time it was thought that the book of Hebrews was actually written by Paul. Why? Because the ideas in the book of Hebrews is, in fact, so similar to the ideas in the Pauline letters. But in fact, if we go back to the teachings of Jesus that we can find, let’s say in the Gospel According to Luke, the story about the Prodigal Son. What does that story tell us? That story actually tells us that if anyone turns back repentant to God, God is willing to forgive him just like a son turns back to his father and the father extends full forgiveness for him. Nobody has to pay for his sins.
Mark 14 speaks about the blood and so on but in fact many scholars think that although Jesus shared a meal with his disciples that was a common Seder meal that still survives in Judaism. It did not have anything to do with his sacrificial death and this Eucharist that was instituted then, or said to be instituted then, owes something again to the teachings of Paul who said in First Corinthians that on the night Jesus was betrayed, this is what he did. Remember the Gospels were written after Pauline teachings were already widespread, and the Gospels that we have were collected by people who were influenced by Pauline teaching.
Now, what about salvation? That is easily attainable, as I’ve already explained. So, I do not see any difficulty with the Islamic concepts but much with the Christian concept.
 Let’s review each of those three objections that I’ve lodged against the Muslim doctrine of salvation.
First, that it’s predicated on a morally deficient concept of God because God, in Islam, is not all-loving. Now Shabir Ally, despite what he wrote on his Internet site in which he affirmed this very truth in his own words (not just in those of the Qur’an) tonight wants to tell us that God is loving and merciful. But the question is, what does this mean in the Qur’an? When it makes these general affirmations, what does that mean? Well, as I explained in my first speech, it means that God’s grace or mercy is selective, conditional, and partial. To whom is this love and mercy extended in the Qur’an and on what basis? It is extended to the servants of Allah on the basis of their works. Hence, the language repeatedly in the Qur’an of wages and earning; who does righteous deeds and believes right doctrine will not lose his wages. God will give him what he has earned. Thus, this general statement of Allah’s mercy and compassion means simply that God is merciful, or Allah is merciful, only in the sense that for those who live up to and fulfill his requirements he pays them back for what they have earned for their good deeds and he overlooks their bad deeds. And this is not unconditional, universal, and impartial love. This is love that requires you to merit it, and that is morally deficient.
Now Shabir says, “But look in the Hadith. It says that if you take one step toward God then God will come running to you.” That exactly proves my point. As I pointed out in my debate with Jamal Badawi, that very Hadith bears testimony to what I’m saying. Humans must take the initiative. If you take the step toward God then he’ll take the step toward you. But the Christian view is totally different. It is that while you are a sinner, while you are an unbeliever, rebelling against God, God loves you desperately and he reaches out to save you. So it’s a very, very different concept of God then this concept in Islam which says, “First meet my requirements and then Allah will love you.”
Now he says, “But what about in the Psalms where it says God hates evildoers?” As I explained, love and hate are not contradictories and he says, “Well, in what language?” Well, this is simply a point of logic! The opposite of black is not white or the contradictory of black is not white. The contradictory of black is not-black. The contradictory of any p is not-p. So, it is not the contradictory of love to say hate. Indeed we often speak of having love-hate relations with certain individuals, don’t we? The opposite or contradictory of love is not-love. And the Bible never says that God does not love evildoers or wicked people—that is the affirmation of the Qur’an. Moreover, I pointed out that these are poetic books and you cannot base doctrine on poetic expressions, they’re often metaphorical. What God hates, very clearly, is the wickedness and the sin of these people, but we have all these other texts in the Bible about how God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
By contrast, Shabir says, “Well, the Qur’an is poetic as well.” I realize that, and I want to be fair here. As I read the Qur’an I tried to give it a measure of understanding—could these be mere poetic expressions? But what suggests to me that it is not is that the Qur’an is so consistent in this. There are no passages in the Qur’an that affirms that God loves unbelievers or sinners. It is consistent and repeated over and over again, he does not love unbelievers, he will give love to those who first love him. So, I don’t think that it is merely poetic in the Qur’an; Islamic doctrine is too consistent for that to be plausible. So, I think that the Islamic conception of God is morally defective.
Secondly, the demands of God’s justice go unmet. Now here Shabir says, “It is not unjust for a judge to show mercy.” Right, in the sense that it’s not wrong for the judge to show mercy. I agree in that sense, it’s not unjust. But on the other hand, when the judge shows mercy he is not administering justice, he’s administering mercy. If he lets someone off by showing clemency he is not demanding the letter of the law. Therefore, if God simply blinks at sin, if he just forgives murderers, rapists, and all the other sorts of sins you might imagine, that means there’s moral wrong in the universe which ultimately goes unpunished. Therefore, he is not absolutely just. I think this is simply, again, a point of logic. And therefore, on the Qur’anic view, God’s love is not only compromised but moreover his justice is compromised; he’s not absolutely holy as he is on the Christian view.
Now, Shabir raises a number of, I think, niggling points against the Christian doctrine. He says, “If God loves his Son so much then why couldn’t he just agree to forgive people without the sacrifice of the Son?” Why? Because, remember, any adequate doctrine of salvation must not compromise the attributes of God. It must be compatible with God’s essential attributes. An essential attribute of God is justice or holiness so God cannot blink at sin. The demands of justice have to be met. Shabir says, “Well, should we love the Father as much as the Son?” Of course we should love the Father as much as the Son because they’re both equally God! Shabir says, “Well, the sins of humanity were not foreseen.” Not at all! Even on Islam God foreknew the sins of the world and he knew he would send Mohammad because God is omniscient. Similarly, in Christianity, the Bible clearly affirms that God is omniscient and knew what would happen.
Finally, as to the Last Supper, I would simply say that this is multiply and independently attested in very early sources, and that’s why most scholars believe that Jesus did celebrate a memorial meal with his disciples in which he prefigured the significance of his death on the cross for sin.
Finally, does the Qur’an make salvation virtually unattainable? I challenge Shabir to read any verse to us from the Qur’an that says salvation is easy to get, that salvation is easy on the Qur’an. This is what the Qur’an says, “Those that repent and serve and praise him, those that fast, those that kneel and prostrate themselves, those that enjoin justice, forbid evil, and observe the commandments of God shall be richly recompensed.” And again, I ask you, how do you measure up? Do you observe all the commandments of God? I don’t! Therefore, I cast myself upon the grace of God through Jesus Christ. The Qur’an says that God will give you your wages. The Bible says the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Praise be to God!
 cf. Qur’an 9:112
 Now, folks, by this time I feel that we are getting a little bit repetitious. It seems that the points we are discussing are very simple and yet we have such difficulty understanding each other on these questions. That’s a fact of life. People are different. We have different levels of training and experience and we have different backgrounds; we’ve been shaped by a different whole set of experiences. Some have been born among Muslims and may have been indoctrinated with Muslim beliefs. Some have been born among Christians and also educated along Christian lines. So, we all have our ways of understanding and perceiving things.
One of the things I’m happy about is that God has guided me to study the world’s major religions, and in doing that I have been able to look at Islam through a variety of lenses and the more lenses through which I’ve looked at Islam, the more I have seen. I have come to understand my own religion even more. I can only hope tonight there might be some persons who might be able to look at their own faith through the lenses of some of the teachings that I’m presenting here tonight. It might just be possible that if you looked at it carefully you might see that, in fact, Islam does make sense, at least on this point. We may have other problems you’re not happy about, but if we think about the questions that we’re discussing here it seems to me that Islam really rings through and makes sense to every human being.
Let’s think about this idea of God as being all-loving. Now, both Muslims and Christians believe God will throw some of his enemies into the fire where they will, well, according to the Christian view, burn forever. That is also a generally understood Muslim view, although some Muslim scholars held a minority opinion like [Shabir names a scholar whose name is inaudible] who has said that, in fact, these threats about God punishing people forever in the fire should be understood as threats, which it is up to God to either carry them through or to be merciful and to not carry them through. And he thinks from a number of arguments that he has advanced from the Qur’an and the Hadith that, in fact, these will not be carried through. But as I’ve said, that is a minority opinion. But the important point is this: that whether you say that God will put somebody in hell for a moment or for eternity you’re saying here this is somebody that God is going to treat differently than the person whom God is going to put into paradise to be surrounded by bliss and pleasure and so on. So, the one that God is going to bring into his grace and into his presence, are you saying that God loves this person at the same level and in the same way as the person he’s going to throw into hell? I do not think so. So, we should say that God loves everybody in some basic way. Yes, God is loving and he is kind and he is merciful. Yet, he reaches out to people who are evildoers and he tells them, “Try to be good or otherwise I won’t love you. I will throw you into the fire. So, be good.” God is extending his love in this way to people. As I’ve said, in 2 Samuel 7:14 speaks of God whipping his own Son in order to bring him to what is right.
Now, Dr. Craig says, “But in Islam the human being has to take initiative.” And yes, but in Christianity, too. Do you not have to take initiative and try to seek Jesus Christ and ask that God send him into your life? If God, in fact, just simply gives this unconditional grace we should ask why does he only give it to some persons and not to some other persons? Is his decision so arbitrary that he selected some to be Christians and some others not to be Christians? The Muslim view is simply this, that a person makes an intention, he wants to do good, he cannot do anything on his own without the will and power and permission of God. But when one person intends to do good by his own free choice then God makes it possible for him to do that good and so one who chooses to be with God, God then extends that grace to him. So that the responsibility goes back to human beings. God is placing that responsibility on us to try and seek him out.
The Psalms that we look at, in fact, does say that God hates the evildoers. Yes, you can argue logically that the opposite of a word is the not of that word (or the minus of the thing is the opposite of the thing) but that’s to quibble with words. We all know, as I have said, actually, that love and hate are opposites. They are opposites. If you check dictionary of synonyms and antonyms you will find love and hate to be antonyms of each other. Surely, when the Bible says that God hates evildoers, it’s not saying that God hates the sin that they do, it is saying that God hates the persons who do those sins.
Now, Dr. Craig grants, yes, the Qur’an is poetic and he’s tried to understand the Qur’an along these lines but he thinks that there is no statement in the Qur’an which is so general as to tell us that God loves all people; and in fact I have given a couple statements. 1) God is the [Arabic], which means that he is loving and kind—that’s a general enough statement. 2) God is [Arabic] toward mankind; he is merciful and kind toward human kind.
Now, the second point was about justice and mercy. God could of course forgive all human beings and that would not be contrary to justice. Now, if that judge was to give that decision that would be a just decision and the just ruling. If God decides to forgive all human beings that would be a just ruling from God and that is not contrary to justice. On the other hand, if you say that God killed his Son who was innocent in order to let the guilt go free, you tell me in what system of justice in the world do we penalize an innocent person in order to let the guilty go free and call that justice.
Now, he asks, “Should we love the Father?” That’s not what I asked. I asked, “Could we love the Father as much as we love the Son?” I think this is a real challenge. I asked, “Did God know?” It’s not so much, “Did God know?” But if God knew that this was going to happen and he will have to send his Son, why did he work it out this way and not some other way? It seems that the Islamic doctrine makes sense.
Is salvation easy in Islam? Is there any verse in the Qur’an? Yes, there are several verses which call out upon people to turn to God and that God will forgive them. God tells us [Arabic], “My mercy overcomes everything.” And he says [Arabic], “Oh my servants who have wronged their souls, do not lose hope in the mercy of God. Surely, he is [Arabic]; he forgives all sins.” So God is calling out to people in the Qur’an and saying, “Yes, you take the initiative. I’m leaving it up to you.” God is not going to force you to take you into paradise but he gives you that opportunity to go; that is open to everyone.
 I think Shabir is right that we’re in danger of beginning to become repetitive and so as to escape that I want to shift gears in my closing statement and share a little bit about what salvation means to me personally.
I myself was not raised in a Christian home or even a church going family, though it was a good and loving home. But when I became a teenager I began to ask the big questions in life. Why am I here? Where am I going? What is the meaning of my existence? And in a search for answers I began to attend a large church in our local town. But instead of answers all I found there was a sort of social country club where the dues were a dollar a week in the offering plate. And these other high school students who claimed to be Christians lived for their real god the rest of the week, which was popularity. And this really bothered me because here, externally, I was living a very moral and upright life and yet I felt so empty inside. I believed that God existed but he wasn’t a living reality in my life. I thought, “These people just must be a bunch of hypocrites! They’re all pretending to be Christians but they must be just as empty as I am because they’re not even living as good a life as I am and I don’t know anything about God.”
So I began to become very alienated and bitter toward these people in the institutional church. Soon this attitude spread toward everybody. I thought everybody’s a fake. They’re all holding up plastic masks to the world and the real person is cowering down inside afraid to come out and be real. And so I began to become very bitter and angry toward other people for their phoniness and their hypocrisy and I threw myself into my studies because I hated people so much I didn’t want to be with them and I said I don’t need them. “I don’t need those stupid bipeds! I’ll just immerse myself in my own studies and work!” At the same time as I did this I was on my way to becoming a very alienated young man and yet in moments of introspection and honesty I realized that deep down inside I really did want to love and to be loved by others. I realized at that moment I was just as much a fake as they were because here I was pretending not to need people when in fact I knew I really did. So, that anger turned in on myself on my own phoniness. I don’t know if you understand what this is like but this kind of inner anger just eats away at your insides day after day making every day misery, another day to get through.
Well, one day I was feeling particularly crummy and I walked into my high school German class and sat down behind a girl who’s one of these types, you know, that is always so happy it just makes you sick! I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around and I said to her, “Sandy, what are you always so happy about for anyway?” And she said, “Well, Bill, it’s because I’m saved!” And I said, “You’re what?” And she said, “I know Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” I said, “Well, I go to church!” And she said, “That’s not enough, Bill. You’ve got to really have him living in your heart.” And I said, “What would he want to do a thing like that for?” And she said, “Because he loves you, Bill.” And that just hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was so filled with anger and hate, and she said there was someone who really loved me. And who was it but the God of the universe! And that thought just staggered me! To think that the God of the universe could love me, Bill Craig, that worm down there on that speck of dust called planet Earth!” And that ignited a fire in me. I began to read the New Testament from cover to cover and as I did so I was captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This man’s teachings had a wisdom about them that I had never encountered before and his life had an authenticity about it that wasn’t characteristic of those people who claimed to be his followers in that local church I was going to. I realized then I couldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Well, to make a long story short, after about six months of the most intense soul-searching I just came to the end of my rope and I just cried out to God one night. And as I cried out all the anger and the bitterness that was in me I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst. And I rushed outside, it was a warm September evening, and I could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. I looked up to the stars and thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!” And that moment changed my whole life because I realized during that time that if this message of God’s love in Christ were really the truth then I could do nothing less than devote my entire life to sharing it with others. And that’s basically why I participate in a debate like this tonight. Because the Gospel is such good news, that God loves you in your sin, as an unbeliever, and he sent his Son to die for you.
They’re giving away New Testaments, or selling them, I’m not sure, at the back of this auditorium after the debate. I would encourage you to do what I did. Get a New Testament. Begin to read about the life and teachings of Jesus and ask yourself if this couldn’t be the truth. I guarantee you it can change your life just as it changed mine.
 Like Dr. Craig, I did not grow up believing these sorts of things that I understand now. I grew up in a Muslim home but we did not celebrate much of Islam except for three Eids. Now if I say three Eids some of you will laugh. We used to celebrate the two Eids that you know about plus Eid al-Mawlid an-Nabawī that some Muslims do celebrate, the birthday of the prophet Mohammad. And occasionally we used to invite the Imam of our village to our home to recite the Qur’an in our home so that we can hear the words of God. On some occasions, like if someone is writing an exam and he wants to get the blessings of God for that occasion, or something like this. The Imam came and read the Qur’an in the Arabic language. We heard the beautiful sounds of this wonderful book but not much was explained as to the contents of this book, and eventually I became one of those persons who had taken an exit from that highway.
When I was about fourteen years old the Imam one day had come to our home, not to read the Qur’an for us, but to invite my father and my older brother to come and participate in the worship services at the mosque. He spoke about God, and what he said to me had the ring of truth. He didn’t come to speak to me but I lingered around in the background and tried to hear what he had to say. I thought that I should go to the mosque. I started going to the mosque and I came in touch with some brothers there who helped me to learn to read the Qur’an some more. I had some background training prior to that from my early childhood days. And they started explaining to me also what was there in the Qur’an. They started sharing with me books that would help me to understand what Islam is all about. And the more I studied Islam I realized that Islam makes sense.
Now, I’ve always been a sort of rational thinking person. Well, okay, maybe you won’t believe that but I have this kind of curiosity to get to the bottom of things, to think, to study, to ask why. I saw that in fact I can ask why about things in Islam. Maybe in some Muslim societies people can’t really ask why, but I found that I can actually question the text and I can get the answers from them. The more I studied the more I saw that if I had a question in my mind then the answer is either there in the Qur’an or in the Hadith or somewhere, and, in fact, the answers were convincing.
When I came to Canada I was only a young man (well I’m still a young man [laughter]) and certain missionaries used to come knocking on my door to teach me another faith. As we engaged in discussions, more questions arose in my mind and I would stay up until about 2 o’clock in the morning reading books by Sheik Ahmed Deedat to try to understand these matters a little bit more. And the more I read these books the more I saw that Islam made a whole lot of sense. That instigated me, eventually, to set up the Islamic Information Center so that I can share with the rest of humankind, to some extent as much as God gives us the ability, this message of Islam. I think that if people have an opportunity to investigate Islam a little bit more, to look past the negative impressions that we get from the media and from the actions of some Muslims, then we will see that the essential doctrines of Islam actually do make sense. When we ask, “Who is God?” it’s easy to understand that there is only one God, Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. If we ask, “Why did God create us?” it is easy to understand that God created us for his mercy and he gave us the freedom to freely choose to be in his mercy. If we ask, “Why are there so many religions?” the Qur’an also explains that God sent prophets and messengers to all people so that everyone should have an opportunity to turn to God. So, there’s no problem here about “what about people who have not heard?” Everyone will be judged, the Qur’an says, according to what God has given them. So everyone has certain abilities, certain levels of understanding, and based on that God is going to judge them and his judgment will be just and righteous.
So, finally, I’d like to invite all of you to investigate Islam starting by reading the Qur’an itself, which is the source document of Islam.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION 1: [inaudible]
DR. CRAIG: I think that Islam and Christianity would not differ on our response to the second part your question “How would Hitler and bin Laden be treated by God?” because neither of these men do charitable deeds or acts of righteousness. Therefore, I think both religions would consign them to hell. Although I guess maybe some facets of Islam might say that because bin Laden is carrying this out in the name of Islam against the Dar al-Harb – the Domain of War – that this is legitimated as part of the jihad. But certainly as a Christian I would not think that, and therefore would say that these men have separated themselves from God forever.
Now, why should somebody else get the punishment that you deserve? Well, because God loves you and he wants to save you but the demands of his justice must be met. Therefore he, himself, takes on human flesh in Christ to pay the death penalty for sin that you deserve. There’s a beautiful example of this in Charles Dickens’ novel Tale of Two Cities where the condemned prisoner at the end is ready to go to the guillotine but someone who loves him and loves his young wife impersonates him, stands in his place, and goes to the guillotine for him and takes that punishment instead so he can go free. This person is a sort of Christ figure, in a sense, in Dickens’ novel. It is self-sacrificial love so that someone else might be forgiven and go free. But you see my point was that on Islam the demands of God’s justice go unmet. God’s holiness and justice are compromised on Islam, and therefore it’s a doctrine of salvation that is incompatible with the essential attributes of God.
SHABIR ALLY: I think the questioner is right. If there are some persons who will actually be treated differently by God, namely that God will send them into hell, then it shows that God is not going to treat everyone the same way and it’s pointless to keep insisting that God loves everyone in the same way. And second, if we say that, in fact, God took on human flesh and came to die for our sins then isn’t that a little bit confusing? I find it a little difficult to understand. If God wanted to forgive us then why would he not just simply forgive us? Why would he make this deal with himself where he takes on human flesh and he comes and dies and then he still forgives us in the end anyway? So, in that case, what have human beings done to deserve that forgiveness? Okay, well you might say that this is great. God has extended his mercy—human beings do not have to deserve it. But God could have extended his mercy in the first place and he did not have to take on human flesh and die.
QUESTION 2: Mr. Ally, as a Christian I know that if I die today I will be in heaven just as the assurance we have in Christianity. Is there any assurance in Islam that if you were to die today, are you going to go to heaven?
SHABIR ALLY: First, I want to clarify that, in fact, although Muslims do not go around saying, “I am saved” and the Muslim doctrine does say that the one who believes in God and remains steadfast on that belief will in fact be saved as the Qur’an in Sura 41:30 says. In fact, remember that Hadith that I quoted earlier, [Arabic] “who ever dies knowing that there is no God but Allah has entered paradise.”
Now, this Hadith does not speak about doing any good deeds. It just speaks about dying with that knowledge of God. Now, we understand that good deeds will come out of that knowledge, but what is required basically is that knowledge of God. The Qur’an says [Arabic], “know that there is no God but Allah.” Not just simply believe it but know it. And based on that knowledge God is going to rescue and save certain people. In fact, it is specifically stated in Sahih al-Bukhari that people will be taken out of hell and put into paradise where they will live forever and it is said that there are no good deeds to their credit.
So, in a nutshell, Muslims believe that, in fact, by believing in Islam they are saved. But we remain humbled before God and we leave the judgment up to God, and the Muslim should not arrogantly walk around saying “We are saved.” God does not call us to save us but we should always depend on his mercy and be humble before him.
I think the Christian understanding of this has been over emphasized in a wrong direction. Even Paul, in Philippians 2:12 says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” And Jesus in Matthew 7 shows that he will disown some people on the Day of Judgment; people who actually did many miraculous things in his name, but he will say, “Get away from me you evildoers.”
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Because Islam teaches salvation by works rather than by grace, it cannot afford any basis for confidence for one’s ultimate salvation, and typically in Islamic theology it is denied that one can have assurance of ultimate salvation. If the Hadith that Shabir quoted says this than it simply contradicts the Qur’an, which says that you must have righteous deeds because those will earn your salvation. Salvation comes as the wage from what you have earned. I simply submit to you that this makes salvation virtually unattainable because none of us can accrue wages that much. None of us live lives that earn salvation or deserve God’s love. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. So, it is simply a gift that we gratefully receive by grace, not something you can earn or merit because that is a treadmill toward destruction.
QUESTION 3: Dr. Craig, if Jesus died for our sins, why and what incentive or reason is there for all of humanity to be good and to do good if we know at the end of the day regardless of what we do we are saved?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I really appreciate this question because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a universalist, that I think that just because Christ died for the sins of all people that therefore all people are automatically saved. That’s not the Christian view. Christians believe in the reality of hell and or judgment, and we believe that a person can separate himself from God’s love forever by rejecting the love and grace of God. To give an analogy, there was an actual case of a prisoner on death row who was condemned to die and the governor of the state pardoned him and the prisoner said, “I reject the pardon! I don’t want to live anymore. I want to die.” And the courts ruled that he had to die because even though the governor had pardoned him, he rejected the pardon. In exactly the same way, although Christ has died for our sins, if you reject Christ’s sacrificial atonement for your sins and spurn it then there remains only one person to pay the penalty for your sins, you yourself.
[The questioner interjects, “Aren’t you then earning salvation?”]
No, I want to emphasize it’s not earned. Faith on the Christian view is not a work that you perform in order to earn salvation. Paul, in the Bible, always opposes faith and works. Faith is merely the means by which you gratefully receive it. It’s not something you do to merit. It’s like the drowning man grabbing the lifesaver that’s been thrown to him. Nobody thinks that he merits or has earned his own salvation by simply receiving the help of others, and that’s the Christian view.
Now, this will issue in good works. I want to emphasize that. The Bible says faith without works is dead. Genuine faith will transform your life and make you a more loving and good person. But God’s judgment of you will not be based upon those good works. He will judge you on the basis of whether or not you have received the gift of his grace and forgiveness in Christ. If you really have, that will produce a life of good works.
SHABIR ALLY: I think as we listen to each other we realize how similar things are that we are saying. In the end, both Muslims and Christians will do good deeds anyhow—Muslims because they think they are obligated, Christians, because they think they have to do it out of love. In fact, in the Islamic view, Muslims should be doing deeds out of love for God. So, they are in fact quite similar.
Where we are different is on the understanding of how that love is extended. If Jesus, by dying for us, has thrown us that lifesaver then it is up to us to grab on to it. Now, notice Dr. Craig is not saying that by Jesus dying everyone is saved, in fact he denies that; whereas if God really wanted to extend his mercy to everyone he should have automatically saved everyone and that would’ve been much simpler than just simply to come into human form and die. Now, if God died in our stead then, in fact, who is taking the life of God? If someone dies for someone else under the guillotine, for example, then this is a mistake of the authority that they have killed the wrong person. By why would God kill himself in this scheme? It seems to me incomprehensible.
QUESTION 4: Shabir, in 1 John 5:20 we’re told, “I write these things to you that you may know that you have eternal life and we know that the Son of God has come…” and the Greek word for belief in the New Testament Greek, pisteo, implies to confide in, to trust in, to believe in, to cling to, to hold to. I just want to hear your comments on the reaction about the Abu Bakr, a companion of the prophet Mohammad, who exclaimed in terror before his death that he was afraid to face Allah because he did not trust Allah. Could you please expound on that?
SHABIR ALLY: I think you have somehow misrepresented what Abu Bakr has said, and I don’t mean that with any disrespect. I know sometimes when things get passed around they change. It is reported that Abu Bakr lived under the fear of God, and so did Omar, and this is seen by Muslims as a very good way of responding to God. In fact, in the Bible Acts 10:41 says that God will accept from every nation those who fear him and do what is right. Recall that this is after the crucifixion. So, Christians still had that understanding. As I said, Paul himself, whom you quoted, has said in Philippians 2:12, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” It’s recorded that Abu Bakr said that he wished he was not born. Not because he did not trust God but because he did not trust himself to keep really being on the right path. So, we still think of being on that highway and we have to keep our heads on straight all the time, make sure we do not take the exit lanes. We should keep that attitude even until death. Now, this is, I think, a much better response to God than to think that we have the key to heaven in our pockets because if we think that we are actually responsible for every deed we do than that creates in us the consciousness to continuously make sure that we live in a way that is pleasing to God. So, I if go to the corner shop and I get an extra penny in change that I do not deserve, I should return it knowing that if I do not return it now, God may ask me about this penny on the Day of Judgment so let me return it now, make sure that all my deeds are in order. But still we depend on the grace of God. There is a Hadith in Sahih Muslim which says that the Prophet Mohammad said, “None of you will enter paradise because of your deeds but by the grace of God.” And he was asked, “Even you, messenger of Allah?” He said, “Even I, except if God showers his grace upon me.” So we believe that we will actually enter paradise by the grace of God. These Hadiths are not contradictory to the Qur’an because remember the Qur’an Sura 41:30 says [Arabic] those who say my Lord is Allah and remains steadfast on that we believe that we will be saved.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I just want to ask those who are Muslims in the audience tonight “Aren’t you afraid to stand before the judgment seat of Allah depending on your own righteousness alone? Aren’t you afraid to stand before an all holy and all just and all righteous judge depending upon your good deeds to save you?” I wouldn’t be. I would be absolutely terrified because I know I don’t measure up. The key to salvation is Jesus Christ; he’s paid the penalty for your sins and you can face God standing in the love of Christ knowing that your sins and the penalty for those sins have been paid, not trying to depend upon your own righteousness in order to put you right with God. No wonder Abu Bakr didn’t trust himself to keep on the right path. What kind of salvation is that where you have to trust yourself? Instead, trust in Christ because he’s paid the penalty for your sins and you’re free. Would you rather have a parent who says, “Your motivation is to live up to my standards and then I’ll love you and care for you?” Or would you rather have a parent who loves you unconditionally and so you naturally live a life of love that is pleasing to your parents because you love that person so much. That’s the Christian view versus the Islamic view.
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