8. Letters to a Muslim Friend
11 May 1996
Dear Mr. An,
I have been forwarded your letter from UFK radio with your question about the Sign of Jonah. I have written a short article on this subject for you which is enclosed. I am also sending you my own personal story, A Glimpse into Heaven which I hope you enjoy.
For you personal information, I have read the Koran several times and have several English translations. I began my life as an atheist and studied many religions, Islam included (see a Glimpse into Heaven), though I was raised in a Muslim country (Malaysia). I am glad to say that the truth has been anything but bitter for me -- it is wonderful to know a God who is both strict and loving, who communicates readily by revelation, and who brings strength, joy and peace. I have also re-read the scriptures you cited in your letter which we can discuss if you are interested.
Feel free to contact me again if I can be of any assistance. We have a large library of (free) publications.... I am writing to you in English as I suspect you speak it and this is easier for me!
With kindest regards,
25 May 1996
Dear Mr. An,
May I begin by first thanking you for your trouble and consideration in sending me the book and materials which you did, for which I am grateful. I am working my way through them carefull which will probably take me a little time; but in the meantime I thought I would drop you a short line to make a few comments. I hope that in the not too distant future we can meet toghether as it is far better to talk face-to-face than to discuss through the sterile medium of paper. Since religious matters are very much as personal as they are "logical" the personal touch is, I feel, essential.
It might perhaps be helpful if, to begin with, I explained that I am not of the "orthodox" Christian school, that is to say, I claim none of the denominational labels such as "catholic", "orthodox" or "protestant". I have little sympathy with the "Christianity" that evolved in Rome or Constantinople (Byzantium) which I believe to be a deviation from Biblical Christianity. Therefore you will not find me defending any of the orthodox creeds such as those which were cobbled together at Nicea, Chalcedonea, or others. I am not, therefore, a "trinitarian" in the orthodox sense which to my mind is quite incomprehensible and unscriptural.
However, I must in all honesty and fairness say that I sustain the Apostles' Creed. I am not a Unitarian either and accept the basic tenet that Jesus Christ was God revealed in the flesh. Though I know that such a statement offends Muslim sensibilities I must be truthful in stating my sincere belief. By the same token, the statements written on the Dome of the Rock about Jesus not being God's son, offend my sensibilities. However, I hope that will not be an obstacle to our dialogue. It is the substance more than the words that clothe it that interests me personally.
Unlike many Christians I do not believe that the Christian faith is fully revealed or established yet. Though rejecting the attempts at theocratic government made by Rome and Byzantium in combining "state and religion" (in what was truly a "dark age" for Europe), I do subscribe to the idea of Christian Theocracy which I believe is yet to be established when Christ returns. In many ways I accept some of the muslim tenets of Sharia government. I believe the whole world will become a Theocratic State at some time in the future, with its capital at Jerusalem. I do not believe, however, that God will establish this state using human agencies, with all their tendencies to corruption, cruelty, and oppression. I believe that God will personbally interevene to establish it Himself. Having seen attempts by Christians, Moslems, Mormons and others to establish theocracies, I am bound to say that I shudder when I look at them. All have been oppressive. Both the Roman Catholic hegemony in Western Europe with its inquisition, Orthodox forced-baptism of the Rus with swords pointing at them should they refuse, Islam's Holy Wars (and its continuing doctrine that were there is not Sharia -- Islamic government -- the world is a "war zone"), and the fanaticism of other religions does little to gain my sympathy. Indeed I will say that exoteric religion, devoid of the wisdom of the ancients (such as Sufism in Islam), has done more harm than good.
I hope you will not misunderstand me in what I say nor suppose that I am an "apostate Christian" about to leave his faith. I am not. But I am willing to truthfully face the Christian past, and its current record. And so I wonder: are you, as a Muslim, prepared to look upon your own faith in the same way? Are you, for instance, willing to condemn the brutalities of the Iranian Muslem régime, the duplicity of the PLO (who with one voice say they want "peace" but yet privately still maintain the doctrine of wishing for the complete extermination of the State of Israel)? These are all questions which, if honestly answered, create the basis of the kind of dialogue which you seem to desire.
As I read your letter it seems to me that you write very much from a Sufi standpoint -- "God looks into the human heart." I agree. But would you, Mr. Al Naklah, under different circumstances, view me in a different light? Would you, for example, were holy Jihad to be declared against Christendom, be willing also to put me to the sword? Indeed, is this an unreasonable question? I ask this not to stir up a stormy debate (which neither of us wants) but to establish just what our religios criteria are.
True Christianity (and since Moslem critics say that "Christianity" is not actually a scriptural term, I will call it by what it was known in the first century as simply "THE WAY" -- Acts 9:2; John 14:6) -- the teaching of "THE WAY" is one of non-violence. (I know there is one -- and only one -- reference of Jesus telling His disciples of get swords (Luke 22:38), which can be interpreted symbolically and could therefore possibly be an "interpolation", but the rest of the New Testament is undoutbedly one of pacificism). Bearing this in mind I make the following observations:
- 1. Islam claims that it is the culmination of a prophetic unfoldment of God's purpose on the earth, begining with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and finally Mohammad.
- 2. Moses advocated an "eye-for-an-eye" form of justice.
- 3. Jesus says: Now let's take that one step further: love your enemies and bless those who despitefully use you; those who take up the sword will perish by the sword; my kingdom is not of this world. In short, a Gospel of Peace.
- 4. Mohammad, and his Islamic successors, revert back to the idea of conquest by the sword -- of holy Jihad -- and of the non-Islamic world being a "war zone" where the rules which bind Muslims do not obtain.
To me -- and this is my view -- this is a step backwards. It is not progress. Indeed, is Jesus is a part of the unfolding process of prophetic revelation that leads to Islam, then his teaching is wholly disjunctive -- contradictory. It simply doesn't fit! Again, maybe I am misunderstanding Islam. Perhaps you, like me, will say that historically that Islam has wandered off the true path, like Christianity has done. Maybe you too are a "pacifist Muslim". I don't know. I am merely asking questions. You are certainly, at first glance, very different from other Muslims I have met (some of whom are my good personal friends). I believe that our religious views are shaped by our cultural backgrounds to a major extent. One Moslem friend -- one of my best friends -- is a Japanese convert. And he is very different from other Muslims I know! (He too claims to be a "non-violent" Shi'ia Muslim). I am aware that there are many schools of Muslim thought. The one I know the best is the Ammadya movement (who teach Jesus died in Kashmir). I also know something abour Sufism which I studied for a time, and which I respect. Islam, like Christianity, does not speak with "one voice" even though, like Christianity, it often speaks with one "political voice" when it is advantageous. So where, in the Islamic spectrum, do you stand, sir? And if I may ask, how has your Christian background (if I have not presumed wrongly) affected your Islamic view?
I worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I always have done, and it is by that Name that I call upon Him. I believe this same God (Yahweh) reconciled Himself to the sins of the world through Jesus Christ. I have personally met Jesus Christ in a real and dramatic way. You can read about it in the pamphlet I sent you called, A Glimpse into Heaven. He has changed my life dramatically and revealed the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to me in a truly wonderful way. Though I am an academic myself, my ultimate faith is based on experience, and not theology. If someone describes Mr. An through the lenses of his own personal experience and I then meet Mr.An and discover that he is completely different, then what shall I believe? I shall believe the reality of my own experience first of all.
I was once an "investigating Buddhist" and had no belief in Christianity. I was not seeking to become a Christian. Indeed, my experience of Anglican Christianity as a boy had created many negative impressions. But God -- may His Name be praised -- revealed Himself to me in a Buddhist meeting to correct the Buddhist teacher who said that Jesus was inferior to Buddha. You can read about that experience in my booklet, and how I came to experience my spiritual rebirth later.
I have seen personalities completely changed for the better by the power of the Name of Christ. I have seen flint-hard, icy-cold hearts changed to warm, loving, generous human-beings -- not from trusting in theological propositions but in trusting a PERSON. These people, who may previously have been criminals, become law-abiding assets to their community.This is the WAY that I believe in.
That people say they are Christians do not make them so. Simply confessing a religious creed does not make on in right relationship with God. The evidence of being in right relationship is in a changed life which is upbuilding.
Do not suppose that I agree with the Christian-dervived materialistic society. I do not. I do not, in fact, believe that Western Europe or America is "Christian" at all, even though they have inherited many fine Christian values. I would say they are neo-pagan. Thus I do not accept the historical "divisions" of the world as, for example, one might find expressed in an atlas. There is nominal or so-called "cultural" Christianity which is not, in my view, Christianity at all. It is not the WAY.
May I ask you, Mr. An, to tell me if you personally make such distinctions in the Islamic world. Is there such a thing as a "nominal Muslim" -- one who claims the name "Muslim" for merely social or cultural reasons -- for political advantage? What, in your opinion, is the heart of Islam? Is it an esoteric faith at heart or can one become a good Muslim by mere external observance? Which Muslims will be saved, and which will not? Do you believe that a Muslim who dies in a Holy War (Jihad) gains automatic admission to paradise/heaven? What is the Muslim heaven? Is it a place of carnal delight, or something else? What is the status of women in heaven? Have you personally experienced this heaven? Can you tell me of any Muslems to whom God has revealed in visions what the Muslim heaven looks like?
I have seen heaven, Mr. An, as have many other Christians. Many have visited it over the centuries. I could, if you were interested, lend you a book of one lady who had a near-death experience and saw what life on the other side is like. I have read many similar experiences. And they agree with one another. Such experiences make an indellible mark on you, one that can never be erased. For such people, there is no "bitter truth" -- it is a wonderful, soul-freeing truth.
I expect that my picture of you as a person is hopelessly wrong. Only in meeting you in the flesh will I come to know you. I would like to do that and would like to invite you to visit my home and dine with me. If you are interested, get in contact with me. If you have a wife (or wives) and children, bring them along too. They are all most heartily welcome!
This is, as I said, only a courtesy reply. I am studing your materials carefully and have found many challenging questions which I intend to work with. I am not a person to brush anything under the carpet. My purpose in writing has been mostly to extend the hand of friendship and to explain that my approach to God -- may His Name (Yahweh) be praised! -- is both personal as well as theological. I, like you, am a creature of both the occident and the orient, which I think confers unique advantages
A saying of a very wise man forms the basis of all my religious (as well as secular) discussions with people which I hope you are agreed with. It is a question: IF WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS NOT TRUE, WOULD YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT? An honest person will answer "yes". Such a person can be saved. But if a person answers "no" then they are spiritually lost because they are saying that they would rather follow their self-delusion. I believe that you and I can truthfully answer "yes". I hope so.
May we all "pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon God with a pure heart" (2 Timothy 2:22).
Until I hear from you again.
With very kindest regards,
Though Mr. An reponded by sending Muslim literature he, though a scholar and fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and at least two European languages, did not reply to the contents of my letter or accept my invitation to visit.
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