Mohammed ibn Abdallah
People unfamiliar with the Koran sometimes assume Mohammed struck out on
his own from the start; that it was always his intention to found a new
religion. Yet the story recorded in the Koran is quite different. Mohammed
insists he is confirming prior revelation:
“O children of Israel! remember my favor wherewith I showed favor upon you, and
be true to your covenant with me; I will be true to my covenant with you; me therefore, revere me! and believe in what I have
sent down confirming your Scriptures, and be not the first to disbelieve it, neither for a mean price barter my signs: me
therefore, fear ye me!” (Koran Sura 2:38).
"And when a Book had come to them from God, confirming that which
they had received already...And when it is said to them, 'Believe in what
God hath sent down,' they say, 'In that which hath been sent down to us
we believe:' but what hath since been sent down they disbelieve, although
it be the truth confirmatory of their own Scriptures. [...] SAY: Whoso
is the enemy of Gabriel -- For he it is who by God's leave hath caused
the Koran to descend on they heart, the confirmation of previous revelations,
and guidance, and good tidings to the faithful..." (Sura 2:83-91)
"And that which we have revealed to thee of the Book is the very Truth,
confirmatory of previous Scriptures: for God knoweth and beholdeth his
servants." (Sura 35:28).
Mohammed insists at first that the people of the Book know and recognize
him, though in time it would become painfully clear they were his most
“They to whom we have given the Scriptures know him -- the apostle -- even
as they know their own children: but truly a part of them do conceal the
truth, though acquainted with it.” (Koran Sura 2:141).
"And when they hear that which hath been sent down to the Apostle,
thou seest their eyes overflow with tears at the truth they recognize therein,
saying, 'O our Lord! we believe; write us down therefore with those who
bear witness to it.'" (Sura 5:86).
"And now have we caused our word to come unto them, that they may be warned: They
to whom we gave the Scriptures before it, do in it believe. And when it is recited to them they say, 'We believe in it, for it is
the truth from our Lord. We were Muslims before it came.'" (Sura 28:51-53)
Mohammed began by urging his listeners to verify the information he is
telling them by inquiring of the people of the Book!:
"And if thou art in doubt as to what we have sent down to thee, inquire
at those who have read the Scriptures before thee." (Sura 10:94).
"And we sent none, previous to thee, but men to whom we had revealed
ourselves. Ask ye the people who are warned by Scriptures, if ye know it
not." (Sura 21:7).
The people of the Book, Jews and Christians, would become an insoluble
problem for Islam. They are supposed to confirm the truth of the Koran,
but are in practice notoriously reluctant to do so. They would ultimately
require considerable prodding from the police power of the Islamic state
to keep their opinions to themselves.
Mohammed shares our disgust with those contentious believers who cause divisions:
"'And truly this your religion is the one religion; and I am your
Lord: therefore fear me.' But men have rent their great concern, one among
another, into sects; every party rejoicing in that which is their own;
wherefore leave them till a certain time, in the depths of error."
"Of a truth, this, your religion, is the one Religion, and I your
Lord; therefore serve me: but they have rent asunder this their great concern
among themselves into sects. All of them shall return to us." (Sura 21:93).
"And be ye not like those who have formed divisions, and fallen to
variance after the clear proofs have come to them. These! a terrible chastisement
doth await them on the day when faces shall turn white, and faces shall
turn black!" (Sura 3:101-102)
...without displaying the slightest awareness that he, founder of a new
sect, is himself of this number.
A frequent theme heard from detractors against the sufficiency of
scripture, like Roman Catholics, is that the founders of sects were
all geniuses who arrived at their divergent perspectives from
intense study of the scriptures. A glance at reality cures this
view. Those who watch Charles Taze Russell climb out on a limb, or
Mohammed ibn Abdallah, are painfully aware of the very incomplete
and imperfect information these 'teachers' themselves enjoyed.
Mohammed's effort to reconcile Jew and Christian was hampered by
his lack of understanding of what either believed. In the end, even
his followers mistrusted his leadership; they withheld from him the
writing materials he requested on his death-bed. The 'unlettered
prophet' evidently had enough verbal facility to frighten his
followers, or were they afraid he was going to doodle? Perhaps they had
been burned by prior experience, or perhaps they feared his final
illness had disordered his mind:
"Ibn 'Abbas said, "When
the ailment of the Prophet became worse, he said, 'Bring
for me (writing) paper and I will write for you a
statement after which you will not go astray.'"
(Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 3, Number 114).
"Narrated Said bin
"Ibn 'Abbas said, 'Thursday! What (great
thing) took place on Thursday!' Then he started weeping
till his tears wetted the gravels of the ground. Then he
said, 'On Thursday the illness of Allah's Apostle was
aggravated and he said, "Fetch me writing materials so
that I may have something written to you after which you
will never go astray." The people (present there) differed
in this matter and people should not differ before a
prophet. They said, "Allah's Apostle is seriously sick."
The Prophet said, "Let me alone, as the state in which I
am now, is better than what you are calling me for." The
Prophet on his death-bed, gave three orders saying, "Expel
the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula, respect and give
gifts to the foreign delegates as you have seen me dealing
with them." I forgot the third (order).'"
Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 288. See also: Sahih
Bukhari Volume 9, Book 92, Number 468; Volume 7, Book 70,
Number 573; Volume 5, Book 59, Number 717.)
What was the third instruction, that his followers forgot? I like
to think it was the instruction to retain due modesty, because Mohammed had
started out intending to confirm, not overturn, God's prior
revelation, and it was only his lack of information that led him to
found a new religion:
The resemblance of this nineteenth century American seer's career to that of Mohammed ibn Abdallah is so strong as
to suggest conscious patterning. Indeed he suggests so himself: ". .
.that like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, 'the
Alcoran or the Sword,' so should it be with us. . ." (quoting Joseph Smith, Joseph
Fielding Smith, p. 226, Essentials in Church History). Perhaps young Joseph enjoyed Washington Irving's lively biography
of the prophet; certainly that would explain the prevalence of 'cimiters=scimitars' in the armory of America's aboriginal inhabitants.
The pagans used to tell the tale of the 'Ring of Gyges,' which made its wearer invisible, posing the conundrum: if
you could do anything and get away with it, what would you do? Joseph and Mohammed found themselves in a like circumstance: when
they spoke, those around them thought they heard the voice of God. So what did they do? They accumulated wives and political power.
When God spoke, He vented against Mohammed's wives for complaining about Mary the Christian slave girl, or about Mohammed's acquisition
of his adoptive son's wife. But perhaps God was not speaking at all. After
all He has made His thoughts on this type of behavior clear enough.
Nevertheless the 'we're married in the eyes of God' pick-up line
snares the gullible to this very day:
"A former pastor of a northwest Indiana mega-church who
has admitted having a sexual relationship with an underage
parishioner exchanged hundreds of text messages with the girl and
told her Jesus Christ sanctioned their relationship, prosecutors
say." (Chicago Tribune, Prosecutors: Indiana Pastor Told Girl Jesus
Sanctioned Sexual Relationship,
online March 14, 2013).
Both these men and their followers experienced persecution, to which they
retaliated with a tit-for-tat alacrity that rose to the level of actual
pre-emption. In Mohammed's case, his readiness to take up arms plunged
the world into war for the next millenium. Both men began their prophetic
venture troubled in conscience by the multiplicity of sects, and ended
by founding their own religions.
This Irish immigrant came to America bearing a novel interpretation of
John 3:5,-- though it was not really novel, it was the traditional Roman
Catholic reading of that verse. His followers do not describe themselves
as this man's followers, even when they repeat his views verbatim, nor
do they describe their fellowships as 'denominations,' thus keeping clear
of the sin of denominationalism. But what's in a name?
The worst that bad religion can get is, tragically, unimaginably
bad. Jim Jones sent nearly a thousand of his followers to an early death
by suicide and murder. At their worst, false religionists are locked in a contest
with rival notorious atheists like Mao Zedong and Pol Pot to see
how many innocent people they can wipe off the face of the earth.
The more routine cases of religious malpractice
include the dime-a-dozen false Messiahs, date-setters, and opportunists. Some
organizations, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, rack up multiple 'wrong
guesses:' 1914, 1975. The problem is not that people don't
eventually catch on; according to the Pew polling organization, only
a minority of those raised as Jehovah's Witnesses stick with the
religion. The problem is that when they walk out the door they keep
on walking. Would that they would turn and find a church that
believes and preaches the Bible! False religion cannot save, but it gives
just enough of a dose of religion to immunize the recipient against
the real thing:
Another common cause of religious strife is acculturation. For
instance, in the early Christian centuries, Gentile converts, who
lived in an altogether pagan world, often tried to put new wine into
old bottles when they first heard the gospel. They tried to fit the new
proclamation into their existing theological categories. The resulting
Christian/pagan blend is called gnosticism:
Many people wanted nothing to do with the blended product, which is
half pagan and half Christian, and so there's a severance between
the purists and the compromisers. An instance of this today is the split
between fundamentalists and liberals.
'Religion,' offered by New Atheist authors as if it were a
compact and homogeneous category, is in reality one of the most
far-flung, scattered and heterogeneous categories imaginable. It spans the gap
between heaven and hell: between the nihilism and hatred of humanity
of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, and the simple love and service
of Bible churches. It can serve the devil, or the living God: