The Attitude of Seventh-day Adventists Toward Islam

The Attitude of Seventh-day Adventists Toward Islam (Part II)

A look at the founder of Islam.

Ralph S. Watts, Vice-president, General Conference

We come now to the second aspect of our attitude toward Islam. It has to do with the founder of the Islamic religion — Muhammad. Who was he? What was he like? Shall we accept the traditional Christian viewpoint that Muham­mad is the "antichrist" of the Scriptures? Perhaps a starting point is to answer the last ques­tion first. Is Muhammad anti­christ? The answer is No. Seventh-day Adventists are sure from Biblical prophecy that this designation be­longs to the "beast power"—the great apostate church of the Christian Era. Who then is Muhammad?

First, it should be observed that any person who has greatly influenced history will be alternately praised and blamed, depending upon the point of view of the reviewer, the temper of his times, and the school of thought to which he belongs.

Seldom has any historical personality drawn upon himself such contradictory evaluation as has Muhammad. Most of the older Church Fathers considered him a heretic, a sower of scandal and schism, a criminal, an adulterer, and robber of the people, and the antichrist of the Bible. Martin Luther was much interested in questions concerning the Turk and Islam, and asked for special prayers that God might spare Christendom from "that ter­rible scourge."' Since the nineteenth cen­tury, however, commentators are less out­spoken. Carlyle assigned him a place among the heroes of mankind. The modern Muslims consider him to be the wisest of all men.

Dr. Samuel Zwemer, writing out of a strong Christian mission­ary connection, says that "Mu­hammad was a prophet without miracles, but not without genius. Whatever we may deny him, we can never deny that he was a great man with great talents."

Even Sir William Meier, an avowed enemy of Islam, writes in liberal terms of Muhammad's character when he says that "our authorities will agree in ascribing to the youth of Muhammad a modesty of deportment and purity of manners rare among the people of Mecca."

But our present concern is with the question of his prophethood, and here lies the root of all apologies. All we can do is touch upon some relevant factors without attempting to be too dogmatic.

First of all, it must be conceded that Muhammad's earliest impulse was religious through and through. From the beginning of his career as a preacher, his outlook and his judgment of persons and events were dominated by his concept of God's govern­ment and purposes in the world of men.'

When we take time to study the sayings of Muhammad we discover that he preached a message—an important mes­sage by Seventh-day Adventist concepts—which was, "Repent, for the judgment of God is at hand." He urged this message on the superstitious tribespeople in Arabia, in order to warn and arouse them to the fear of God. In this respect we surely are not amiss in accepting Muhammad as an in­strument, a reformer, in the hand of God to awaken the masses to accept a religion far better than they had previously followed.

How do Muslims picture Muhammad to­day? He is to the Muslims "not a prophet in the sense that Isaiah and Daniel are prophets to the Jewish or Christian believ­ers, namely, holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." To the Muslim "it means merely that he was instrumental in delivering a message from God to the people. . . . {He was] a tool in the hand of God in bringing the Qur'an to the people." He never claimed "what many of his followers later attributed to him—to be an intercessor, to possess mirac­ulous qualities, or to have had prenatal connections with the heavenly world." '

Much has been written regarding his vi­sions; all of them were the auditory type, except three. Muhammad himself records: "The revelation comes to me in two ways. Sometimes Gabriel comes to me and tells it to me. But sometimes it comes to me like a bell, and that blends with my heart and it never slips away from me."

In times past, persons other than the prophets brought to view in the Holy Scrip­tures had visions, like St. Anthony, Joan of Arc, and like Martin Luther himself. Lu­ther's visions, as we all know, were ma­terial enough, for during one of them he threw an inkstand at the devil who ap­peared to him at the Castle of Wartburg.

What Muhammad said he saw, he no doubt did see, even if it was the "sub­jective creation of his own brain." If the results are any test of genuineness then Muhammad's so-called revelations must have been in some sense true ones for they gave him strength for his great work. His­tory establishes that he instituted the great­est religious and social reforms ever wit­nessed among the ignorant and supersti­tious tribespeople in the desert of Arabia.

The Muslim position that Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets is too well known to document. As Seventh-day Adventists we cannot accept the interpretation, since Christ, the divine Son of God, is the great­est of all prophets; yet to simply relegate Muhammad as an historical impostor, or a charlatan who had hallucinations under satanic spells, actually raises more prob­lems than it solves. On the other hand, to affirm that Muhammad was sincere in be­lieving he received divine instruction and light from Gabriel, and had a burden, an that his impulses were religious, does not imply that he was always correct in his be­liefs. A man may be sincere, but mistaken. He may be honest in setting forth the true conception of God and yet not do it in the right way.

Here again let me refer to a strange anal­ogy in the Scriptures. We read in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 that God said of Cyrus, the great heathen monarch of Media-Persia, "He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure." "Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him."

Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; while others, on the con­trary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than before.—Poiybius

We might well ask, what kind of "reli­gious" man was this "anointed" of God? To our knowledge, Cyrus never accepted "the truth." As a matter of record, he was a fire worshiper. He never understood "all the light"; and yet the Lord says he was "the anointed" and "raised ... up in righteousness." The Lord simply used Cy­rus at a propitious time to fulfill a desired mission. In analyzing the life and teachings of Muhammad there should be no difficult problem in drawing the same conclusion, for one thing is certain: he stepped into Arabic history, and that of the world, at a significant time, and changed the religious concepts of the masses by revealing to them God.

There were even prophets of God, as recorded in the Sacred Scriptures, who made mistakes, gave wrong counsel, were corrected at times—prophets who were out of order in their lives, but who sought the Lord in the best way possible consonant with the times and crises they faced. In fairness to Muhammad, then, should we deny him as a reformer of his age, that which we cannot deny these true prophets of old?

During the Christian Era many mighty men of God like Luther, Calvin, Melanch­thon, and others, did not have all the truth. They even repudiated some of the funda­mental concepts of the Word of God. Nev­ertheless, God used them. While we are re­luctant to place Muhammad in the same category as the great Christian reformers, yet let us measure Muhammad, not by the standards of the twentieth century, but by the times in which he lived.'

This may seem like an apology for Mu­hammad. It is not intended to be such. He is dead and his works testify. I am writing an appeal to those seeking the "lost sheep of the house of Israel." Our attitude today must be like that of the apostle Paul: To the Jews we must be Jews, and to the Mus­lims, well, we might consider ourselves Christian Muslims and try to understand them as our brothers. This will require love, not bigotry; sympathy, not prejudice.

I have carefully consulted the Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White and can find no mention made of Muhammad, his teachings, or his system of religion. How­ever, in the introduction to the book The Great Controversy, written by her, there appears a statement showing that the Holy Spirit through the ages has not ceased to communicate light to individual minds. Let us quote these words:

In harmony with the word of God, His Spirit was to continue its work throughout the period of the gospel dispensation. During the ages while the Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testa­ment were being given, the Holy Spirit did not cease to communicate light to individual minds, apart from the revelations to be embodied in the Sacred Canon. The Bible itself relates how, through the Holy Spirit, men received warning, reproof, counsel, and instruction, in matters in no way re­lating to the giving of the Scriptures. And mention is made of prophets in different ages, of whose ut­terance nothing is recorded. In like manner, after the close of the canon of Scripture, the Holy Spirit was still to continue its work, to enlighten, warn, and comfort the children of God.'

We now come to the important question —was Muhammad, then, a prophet of God? Many ask this question. Perhaps much more needs to be known than is known; but we cannot escape the fact that he was an instrument or "tool" in the hand of the eternal God, raised up to provide millions of men in his generation with a better reli­gion than they had before, and to testify that there "is no god but God." Further­more, let us realize that Muhammad and the religion he founded became a scourge in the Lord's hand to correct the down­ward Christian trend and to turn the hearts of multitudes to seek for purer truth.

I believe the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 8:11 are applicable in this re­spect, when He said that "many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." From the Eastern lands many will come and sit down with Abraham in God's kingdom.

In summing up this brief analysis of Mu­hammad, I will quote Prof. W. Montgom­ery Watt, who seems to have gone a long way in answering the question from the standpoint of the Orientalist and histo­rian:

He was a man in whom creative imagination worked at deep levels and produced ideas relevant to the central questions of human existence, so that his own religion has had a widespread appeal, not only in his own age, but in succeeding centuries. Not all the ideas he proclaimed are true and sound, but by God's grace he has been enabled to provide millions of men with a better religion than they had before they testified that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the mes­senger of God.°

The Muslims know that Muhammad is dead, and they know also that Christ lives. Let us point out the spiritual consequences that result from Christ's being alive with God in heaven, and the part He now occu­pies in the final great judgment, and that the essence of true religion is inherent in the future resurrection.

And may God help us to find quickly the right bridge to Islam and bring modern Muslims to a true Islam; that is, "a sur­render" to the Lord Jesus Christ who alone can bring salvation from sin, "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." "

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1 Martin Luther, Sammtliche Sehriften, Walch ed., vol. xx, col. 2218.

2 Dr. Samuel Zwemer, Arabia, 13. 179.

3 Wm. Meier, The Life of Muhammad (revised ed. 1912), pp. 19, 20.

4 A. R. Gibb, Mohammedanism, p. 25.

5 E. W. Bethmann, The Bridge of Islam, pp. 42, 43.

6 Ib'n Sa'd I., pp. 131, 132.

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

8 E. G. White, The Great Controversy, Viii.

9 W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad, The Prophet and Statesman, p. 240.

10 Acts 4:12, R.S.V


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Ralph S. Watts, Vice-president, General Conference

July 1964

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