The Attitude of Seventh-day Adventists Toward Islam

The author is one of our vice-presidents and represented the General Conference at the Inter-Division Islamic Insti­tute in Beirut, September 5-16, 1963. This presentation of the Seventh-day Adventist attitude toward Islam covers some interesting and not too easily discussed areas, but it will serve to clarify our relationships in a dispassionate and reasonable manner.—Editors.

Ralph S. Watts, Vice-President, General Conference

What should be the attitude of Seventh-day Adventists toward Islam as a religion? Are we pre­pared to accept Islam in the stream of revealed religions as we do Judaism and Catholicism, or should we regard Islam as a "scourge," an avowed enemy of Christianity?

Is there a moderate, sensible attitude that we can correctly as­sume which recognizes in the re­ligion of Islam certain elements of truth—truth used by God during past cen­turies to enlighten masses of benighted peo­ples?

We are all aware of the fact, I am sure, that our historical approach to Jews and Catholics always has been on the supposi­tion that they built their religion on truth, but not necessarily all truth; that today there are many in these organizations who are seeking to grasp what is truth, and dis­card that which is based wholly on the innovations and traditions of men. In other words, despite many errors and traditions within these religious systems, they have been accepted during the centuries as re­vealed religions.

There is still another aspect of our rela­tionship to Islam that we need to deter­mine. It is in regard to the question of Muhammad, the founder of the religion of Islam. Who was Muhammad? Was he a prophet or an impostor, a messenger or a charlatan, a saint or a devil?

The answer to this basic question, as we can readily see, will essentially affect our attitude toward Islam as a religion.

The Religion of Islam

"What is Islam? This is a sim­ple enough question to ask, but there is no equally simple an­swer. First there are some impor­tant facts to consider:

"Islam is the latest of all great world religions. It appeared on the scene later than Judaism, Buddhism, or Christianity. It sprang up in the full light of history." Un­like any other great religion, Islam arose and spread in a world where the Christian church had long been established and in doing so "it spread more rapidly than any of the other great religions." "It is the only religion which clashed with Christianity and conquered a large part of the latter's former territory." "Not only was the new religion from Arabia later in time than the religion of Christ" but "it was also in large measure indebted to the earlier faith [of Christianity] for its original tenets and for its developed theology."

The early relations between Christianity and Islam might be said to begin with a knowledge of Christianity which helped to form the teaching of Muhammad himself. While it may be true that the knowledge derived from personal intercourse with Christians and Jews was meager, it is gen­erally agreed that most of Muhammad's religious concepts were derived basically from elements common to Judaism and Christianity, such as belief in one god (monotheism), the day of judgment, pun­ishment of the wicked, heaven, and rever­ence for the prophets and sacred scripture.

In pointing out this relationship, how­ever, we should realize that Islam as a reli­gion was born in the seventh century A.D. amid an apostate church—a decadent form of Christianity—corrupt, licentious, at times schismatic, and indulging in practices out of harmony with the teachings of the Bible. If this had not been true, the rela­tions between the two great religions might have been very different.'

Another important fact to consider is that Islam, along with Judaism and Chris­tianity, finds a focal point in the life of the patriarch Abraham. Muhammad held that Abraham, being neither Jew nor Christian, was the "true expounder of ethical mono­theism." The Jews and Christians had cor­rupted the faith, and "tracing his gen­ealogy to Abraham through his son Ish­mael, Muhammad claimed to be the right­ful heir to Abraham's rank." ' This position in later centuries has been enhanced by Muslim tradition.

Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, is strictly monotheistic. All three religions recognize only one God, but in each of them a different aspect of God is stressed. This results in a different concept of life, which leads to a difference in ways of meet­ing life's problems.

Judaism lays great stress on the holiness and reverence of God; in Christianity the love of God is the center of all thought; but in Islam the paramount emphasis is on the omnipotence of God and His abso­lute free will.

It was Richard Bell who wrote that "it is a remarkable fact that the three great monotheistic religions of the world . . . took their rise on the confines of the Ara­bian Peninsula." 6 It is not to be under­stood, however, that the desert is the mother of monotheism or consequently that "Muhammad's insistence on the unity and unapproachable greatness of God was simply a reflection of the vast change­less wastes of Arabia." It is rather that they all share alike in the common historical root and that commonality is to be found "in the prophetic impulse which the courses of history called forth amongst the people of Israel."

Pristine and Apostate Islam Today

There are two forms of the religion of Islam just as there are two kinds of Chris­tianity. There is the "pristine" Islam and there is "apostate" Islam.

Scholars are generally agreed that the present conformation of the Koran is essen­tially that of Muhamnaad's work, but to add to this, there is the problem of inter­pretations. Muslim commentators agree that at least seven different versions have some validity. Therefore it is extremely difficult to discover what "pristine" Islam actually stood for, hidden as it is today under a mass of traditional, philosophical, and mystical interpretations. Yet it is con­ceivable that in its original setting some elements of the teaching of Islam were not so far divergent from the truth of genuine Christianity.'

In view of the above evidence, how then shall we regard the religion of Islam? Shall we look upon it as a religion that contains some truth, the same as we do Judaism and Catholicism, or shall we look upon Islam simply as a pagan philosophy that postu­lated the aid of a diabolic origin? In try­ing to establish how best to accept Islam we may be guided somewhat in the man­ner God has dealt with the non-Christian nations in the past. First notice this quo­tation from the pen of inspiration:

Every nation that has come upon the stage of ac­tion has been permitted to occupy its place on the earth, that it might be seen whether it would ful­fill the purpose of "the Watcher and the Holy One.""

This is an all-inclusive statement regard­ing the nations, whether pagan or Chris­tian. As we understand it, each of the na­tions has had its period of test to prove whether it would fulfill the divine pur­poses of God.

For instance, Assyria, that great heathen nation of antiquity, was in one stage of its development the favored of God. At the height of her prosperity and greatness, In­spiration likened Assyria's glory to a no­ble tree "in the garden of God."" Assyria was a "heathen nation," but undoubtedly possessed some knowledge of the true God and some phases of truth which led the Jehovah of the Old Testament to refer to this heathen power as a noble tree "in the garden of God." At the time this statement was made by Ezekiel, Assyria was being used of God for a season as a "rod of His anger, for the punishment of the nations.""

A most striking example of God's atti­tude toward a heathen power is that of Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of the idol­atrous Babylonian Empire. According to the Bible record, God gave him two dreams that we know of and he therefore was in this respect the agent of God. Nebuchad­nezzar did many right things for God, but often in the wrong way.' In Jeremiah 25:9 the Lord refers to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, as "my servant." We conclude that to receive prophetic inspira­tion does not mean that the recipient al­ways understands or knows God's way. Here was a heathen king, the monarch of the world's most powerful empire, entrusted with prophetic dreams he did not under­stand, classed by God as His servant, and raised up by Omnipotence to punish apos­tate Judaism. God used an idolatrous power with a limited knowledge of truth to accomplish His desired end for that par­ticular time. The servant of the Lord says, "In every age there is a new development of truth, a message of God to the people of that generation." "

The attitude of the Omnipotent One toward these heathen nations strengthens the thought that there has been but one true religion on earth, the religion of God, to which believing men have belonged at all times and places. Each of the messen­gers of God who has taken part in reveal­ing the nature of the religion of God, al­though limited in scope and understand­ing, has been a stone in the building of that edifice.

Therefore it seems to me that as Sev­enth-day Adventists, raised up by God in these latter days as "the restorers of the breach" we should regard Islam as a reli­gion which was designed at least in its beginning to enlighten the masses and with the recognition that the Lord per­mitted Islam to rise with the fundamental mission to teach belief in monotheism, the judgment, acceptance of the holy proph­ets, and to establish some truths to na­tions in the Middle East who were steeped in pagan superstition and philosophies.

According to the Scriptures we also ac­cept the fact that we are the spiritual de­scendants of Abraham, and as such we hold in common with the Muslims certain principles of truth which God first revealed to him. In the same respect we are "spirit­ual" Israel to the Jews. To Catholics and to Protestants we are the restorers of the apostolic faith. If we can establish this point, then it is clear that Seventh-day Ad­ventists are true friends of Islam, the same as friends of Jews, Protestants, and Catho­lics, and the Muslim can count himself a brother with us without the rejection of all his own beliefs and practices.

Islam today is an apostate religion. Islam is void of the doctrine of salvation by faith and is basically a religion of righteousness by works. Some elements of Christianity also, in practice, accept and practice right­eousness by works. Yet we know there are unnumbered multitudes in these apos­tate churches that God will save. His mes­sage is "Come out of her, my people." Isn't this message also directed to the multi­tudes of honest hearts in the religion of Islam?

If we are to reach Muslims we must be divested of our settled prejudices and pre­conceived erroneous concepts and take a different look at Islam as a religion. We must probe deeper into the areas of agree­ment in our beliefs and strive to establish more firmly the points of agreement be­tween our religions, and thus avoid mak­ing prominent the points on which we dif­fer. We should stress Adventist brother­hood with Muslims by pointing out to them that we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. We must show them that we believe all the prophets, and that today we are the people who are striving to adhere to the great principles they enunciated.

Furthermore, we should help them un­derstand that they can be partakers of the blessings and privileges that come through a belief in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, the same as all Christians. We must show them that they are to be equally benefited with us in accepting salvation in Christ.

REFERENCES

1 E. W. Bethmann, The Bridge to Islam (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publishing Assn.), p. 16.

2 James Thayer Addison, The Christian Approach to Islam (New York: Columbia University Press 1942), p. 11.

3 E. R. Reynolds, Jr., Reinvestigating Old Values.

4 Abraham I. Katsch, Judaism in Islam, p. 16.

5 Ibid.

6 Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in Its Christian En­vironment, p. 13.

7 A. R. Gibb, Mohammedanism, p. 1.

8 Ibid.

9 Reynolds. op. cit., p. 8.

10 Ellen G. White, Education, pp. 176, 177.

11 Ezekiel 31:5-8.

12 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 349.

13 See Daniel 2:37, 38; 4:2, 3; 5:19-21.

14 Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 127.


Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

Ralph S. Watts, Vice-President, General Conference

June 1964

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

The Ministry and Human

Dealing with relationship problems.

The Problem of Human Relations

Following Christ's steps.

Specialists and the Church

Living among medical specialists has its reward in mental peace

Are We Keeping Pace With the Population Explosion?

A statistical expert offers his assessment.

Saving Face and True Status

Where do I stand in the eyes of the people around me?

Thoughts on the Wider Meaning of Stewardship

The concept in its scriptural context.

When Bells Toll

A visit to Russia provides vivid background for this article

Paul, "Tinkers," and Conscience

Each man has a conscience.

A "Stage-A-Torium" for your Airatorium

Are you tired of building and tearing down a stage at every new location?

The Year-Day Principle (Part 1)

***** PERMANENTLY UNPUBLISHED: Ministry Magazine does not want to promote this author's works. *****

A recent book by Norman F. Douty, Another Look at Seventh-day Adventism, attacks what he calls "the fallacious year-day theory," which is basic in Seventh-day Adventist prophetic chronol­ogy. Desmond Ford, head of our Australasian Mis­sionary College Bible department, here answers Douty on this important year-day principle of in­terpretation. We are sure our ministers will find this a timely and helpful article.—EDITORS.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All