Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book Review: No God But One- Allah or Jesus? by Nabeel Qureshi

Introduction

Nabeel Qureshi1 is the award-winning author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Our review is here.) and Answering Islam: A Better Way Forward.  He is a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and his credentials are impressive.  He holds degrees in medicine (Eastern Virginia Medical School), Christian apologetics (Biola University), and religion (Duke University).  Qureshi is currently pursuing a doctorate in New Testament studies at Oxford University.

Qureshi begins this work by thanking the reader for taking the time to read his current offering.  He then explains how No God, But One: Allah or Jesus? differs from Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

He writes:

"That book [Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus] is the heart of my story, detailing the relationships, emotions, and spiritual struggles in my search for God.  No God but One: Allah or Jesus? is the mind of my story, examining the religions and their claims.  In the course of this book, I hope to elucidate two overarching matters in particular: that the differences between Islam and Christianity have great implications, and that the evidence of history strongly supports the Christian claims." [p. 11]

The author wisely continues by explaining the importance of defining one's terms when discussing Islam and Christianity.  He is careful to explain what he means by Muslim and Christian and this nicely lays the groundwork for the forthcoming discussion.

Book Layout

The book is organized into 10 parts.

Parts 1-5 deal with the question, "Are Islam and Christianity really all that different?"  They are as follows:

Pt 1: Sharia or the Gospel?  Two Different Solutions
Pt 2: Tawhid or the Trinity? Two Different Gods
Pt 3: Muhammad or Jesus?  Two Different Founders
Pt 4: The Quran or the Bible?  Two Different Scriptures
Pt 5: Jihad or the Crusades?  Two Different Holy Wars

Parts 6-10 deal with the question, "Can we know whether Islam or Christianity is true?" and it is as follows:

Pt 6: Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Pt 7: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?
Pt 8: Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

Midway Summary to Question 2: Assessing the Case for Christianity and Islam's Efforts to Account for Christian Origins

Pt 9: Is Muhammad a Prophet of God?
Pt 10: Is the Quran the Word of God?

Strengths of the Book

Qureshi's latest work is a treat to read for a variety of reasons.  This reader greatly appreciated how fair-minded the author presented the Muslim position.  The Islamic doctrines and beliefs that Nabeel deals with were once dear to him and he understands that they are still dear to those who are Muslim.  And while he doesn't hold back in his examination of Islam, he treats the tenets of Islam, and those who hold to it, with respect and dignity.  For example, when discussing what can be known about the historicity of Muhammad, the author notes:

"When we read about the life of Muhammad, there is no doubt that Muhammad taught many good things.  This goes beyond the simple proclamation of monotheism and submission to God.  Muhammad taught people to feed the poor; to love others for God's sake; to abstain from theft, fornication, and infanticide; to release slaves, help the weak, and serve those who cannot work for themselves; and much more.  When considering the historical record of Muhammad's life, one has to conclude that he taught many things that were very moral and noble." [p. 293-294]

Quershi strives throughout the text to present the best arguments Islam has to offer against Christianity and this is to be commended.  Other authors should take note.

This reader also appreciated how concise the author presented his case for the Christian faith.  This was especially evident in his arguments for the deity of Jesus Christ.  Quershi argues persuasively that the Gospel of Mark, which most believe was written first, was "designed to teach that Jesus is Yahweh."[p. 258]  He concludes:

"After reading Mark through the lens of Jewish scripture I could no longer avoid the obvious.  From introduction to climax, Mark's Gospel is an exposition of the deity of Jesus." [p. 258]  This portion of the book was flawlessly argued and this reader will be referring to it time and time again.

Finally, it must be noted that Nabeel's case for Christianity is explained with his own story of conversion serving as the backdrop.  This makes, what some would consider to be a dense book on comparative religion, highly readable.

Arguments Dealt with in the Book

The author spends the first part of the book contrasting the core message of Islam with the core message of Christianity.  He notes, "Where the difference matters most is in the ultimate message of each religion." [p. 29]  This reader was very impressed with Quershi's explanation of the effects sin has had on humanity and  how Jesus uniquely addresses this problem.  When describing sin he writes:

"...in the Christian worldview, sin against God is more than just doing something wrong.  It is rebellion against the Sustainer of the universe.  It is the most destructive force in the cosmos, the ultimate root of every pained heart, every broken family, every pointless war, every heinous genocide.  Sin spreads through generations like a malignant cancer, and it razes civilizations like a plague.  The effect of sin is cataclysmic.  Like taking a sledgehammer to a mirror, sin shatters the image in which man is made.  When Adam sinned, the image of God in man was irreparably broken.

This is the Christian worldview: Sin has ravaged our souls and the entire world.  There is no way for us to un-sin.  We cannot simply do a few good deeds to unshatter our souls.  There is nothing on earth that we can do.  It would take a miracle, an act of God, to restore us and save this world." [p. 34]

Such is the condition we find ourselves in and the author argues that the gospel "resonates with reality: People are broken in their hearts and souls, and no matter how educated or self-reflective we become, it does not appear that following rules will be enough to address the problem.  The problem lies deeper than what we do; it is embedded in who we are.  Having spent some time working with the dejected and downtrodden, such as those whose lives have been ravaged by various addictions, I do not think ignorance is their problem.  It is brokenness."[p. 45]

Quershi argues extensively and persuasively that "If we misdiagnose what ails us, the treatment won't work and we will continue to suffer.  Islam diagnoses the world with ignorance and offers the remedy of Sharia, a law to follow.  Christianity diagnoses the world with brokenness and offers the remedy of the gospel, a relationship with God that leads to heart transformation." [p. Ibid.]

The author then shifts from the nature of man to the nature of God and this leads into a discussion about the Muslim belief in Tawhid vs. the Christianity belief in the Trinity.  For those who saw Nabeel's debate with Muslim apologist Shabir Ally,2 some of these arguments will be familiar; however, this reviewer was particularly impressed with two of the arguments made by the author in this section.

First, he argues persuasively that "there are five elements found repeatedly throughout the Bible's text that are best interpreted through the lens of the Trinity:

1. There is only one God (e.g., Rom. 3:30)

2. The Father is God (e.g., John 6:27)

3. Jesus is God (e.g., John 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 2 Peter 1:1)

4. The Holy Spirit is God (e.g., Acts 5:3-5)

5. These Three are distinct persons (e.g., John 14:16-17)

He further demonstrates that the Trinity is hinted at in Genesis 1:1 and makes sense of numerous Old and New Testament passages.

Second, Qureshi masterfully argues that far from being self-contradictory, the complexity of the Trinity is what makes Yahweh logically consistent and self-sufficient!  Consider the basic Islamic teaching of Tawhid: God is absolutely one.  As the author explains, "This means that, in eternity past, before He had created anything, Allah was alone.  One person, all by Himself.  It was not until He chose to create the universe that Allah had anything to relate with.  This is a significant theological problem because...Islam teaches that Allah is a relational being.  But if He had nothing to relate with before creating the universe, how could He be a relational being?" [p. 69]  Therein lies the problem.  In order for Allah to actually be gracious and merciful, as Islam teaches, He has to first create the universe and this makes Allah dependent upon His creation in order to be Allah!

After demonstrating this theological fault in the doctrine of Tawhid, Qureshi argues that the Trinity actually makes sense of an eternally existent being that is merciful, just and relational:

"...the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that the three persons of God have eternally loved one another with a selfless love.  God has always been relational, always been loving.  His mercy and justice are not contingent upon His creation, because they are the expression of His eternal love toward humans. That love was never contingent upon mankind's existence.

Because of Tawhid, Allah depends on mankind to be Allah.  Because of His Triune nature, Yahweh is truly independent and self-sufficient."[p. 70]

After assessing the merits of both religions and investigating their origins, the author turns his sights to the second vital question: "Can we know whether Islam or Christianity is true?"  The author admits that when his investigation began he was "absolutely convinced that Islam was correct..." and he was "more than ready to challenge Christianity's truth claims in order to call people to Islam."[p. 171]

Before starting his investigation, the author, and his Christian friend David Wood, wanted to examine "matters more systematically" so they "tried to distill Christianity and Islam to their cores." [p. 172] Qureshi realized that "The central claims of Christianity are explicitly rejected by Islam.  Islamic doctrine is antithetical to the core message of Christianity.  Evincing the case for Christianity disproves Islam, and vice versa."[p. 174]  With this in mind, and "after careful consideration, David and I chose to study these five points:

1. Jesus' death by crucifixion.

2. Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

3. Jesus' claim to be God

4. The prophetic authority of Muhammad

5. The divine inspiration of the Qur'an

Together, these five points constitute the case for Christianity and the case for Islam."[p. 176]

The author admits that pursuing the truth about your worldview and assessing it honestly is difficult. Further, he admits that "we can never completely overcome our biases, the most important step we can take is to pursue fair-mindedness with intentionality.  While considering the data, we need to repeatedly ask ourselves the question: 'Would an objective observer find the arguments compelling?'"[p. 178-179] For the remainder of the book, this question is repeatedly raised.

To investigate the resurrection of Jesus, Qureshi examines "the historical facts surrounding Jesus' crucifixion that virtually all historians agree upon, and by far the best explanation of those facts is that Jesus rose from the dead."[p. 214]  These facts are:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion

2. Jesus' followers truly believed the risen Jesus had appeared to them

3. People who were not followers of Jesus truly believed the risen Jesus had appeared to them

The author goes on to consider the Islamic responses to these facts and finds them wanting.  This reviewer especially appreciated Qureshi's responses to the Islamic claim that the Apostle Paul infiltrated and corrupted the message of the early church.  He concludes:

"The common Muslim assertion that Paul hijacked Christianity, imposed his own teachings, and corrupted the true religion not only goes against the biblical records but also is unwarranted from a historical point of view and enjoys almost no scholarly support." [p. 240]

Furthermore, as I have already mentioned, Qureshi's defense of the deity of Christ is executed flawlessly in this work and is worth the price of the book.

The author concludes his investigation by examining Muhammad's life and character and the reliability of the Qur'an.  He finds that the arguments he once found so persuasive crumbling under the weight of the evidence.

In regard to the historical Muhammad he states:

"Though other Muslims and I often said that Muhammad ought to be followed because of his excellent character, I could not sustain that argument in the face of the counter-evidence.  Although Muhammad gave plenty of moral teachings and exhibited merciful and peaceful character at times, there are many other accounts of Muhammad's brutality and exultation in war, his spiritual shortcomings, and his troubling treatment of women, among the concerns." [p. 305]

He concludes:

"Either I could trust the historical sources of Muhammad's life and find a man I would never want to follow as a prophet, or I could question the sources and have no reason to consider him a prophet.  Either way I could not conclude, based on the evidence, that Muhammad was a prophet of God."[p. 315]

Finally, Quershi examines the claim that the Qur'an is "the jewel of Islam" and the "why" of Muslim belief.  He explains that the Qur'an's place "in Islamic theology is that of Jesus in Christian theology, and as a Muslim, my confidence was built on nothing less than the text of the Qur'an and its excellence."[Ibid.]

He then examines some of the most common arguments put forth by Muslims to argue for the excellence and divine origin of the Qur'an.  They include the literary excellence of the Qur'an, the fulfilled prophecies of the Qur'an, the supposed miraculous scientific knowledge in the Qur'an, the mathematical marvels in the Qur'an and the perfect preservation of the Qur'an.

He concludes:

"The arguments for the divine inspiration of the Qur'an all prove unconvincing when we begin to dig beneath the surface.  The literary excellence of the Qur'an proves to be untestable, subjective, and non-sequitur; the prophecies of the Qur'an are not compelling; the science of the Qur'an is actually problematic; the numerical patterns are often distorted data combined with exaggerated interpretations; and the Qur'an has not been preserved in any miraculous sense.

Because there is no compelling argument, there is no reason to accept the Qur'an as the Word of God."[p. 337]

Conclusion

This book is a must read for those desiring to better the understand the vast differences between the core tenets of Christianity and Islam.  Qureshi simplifies the investigation by focusing on the two questions that guide his quest: 1. Are Islam and Christianity really all that different? 2. Can we know whether Islam or Christianity is true?

Moreover, this reader could sense the tension throughout the author's investigation as he wanted to confirm the truth of Islam, but found himself leaning more and more toward the opposite conclusion.

This work would also be very instructive for those who desire to investigate the truth of their worldview, but are possibly held back by their strong feelings, fears or other outside factors. Qureshi desires the truth and no matter what the cost, he seeks it.  Again, this is instructive for us all.

Qureshi wrapped a fair-minded, systematic approach in his own story of how he set out to confirm Islam and became a follower of Christ.  Because of this, the book is highly recommended.

Qureshi himself sums up who would would best benefit from the book:

"...I often come across two kinds of people: Christians who enjoy criticizing Islam, and Muslims who want to argue but do not want to learn.  I am not writing this book for either of them.  I am writing for people who...need the answers to these questions:
  • What are the differences between Islam and Christianity?
  • Can we be confident that Christianity or Islam is true?
  • Is it worth sacrificing everything for the truth?"[p. 21]
In No God but One: Allah or Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi answers these questions comprehensively and demonstrates just how important it is to seek the truth no matter what the personal cost.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Footnotes:
1. Readers should know that I find the claims made by both Christians and non-Christians that Qureshi was not a "true Muslim" before his conversion to Christianity to be absurd and ridiculous. For those who would offer this view, I challenge you to watch this video by David Wood of Acts17 Apologetics.
2. You can find that debate here.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I just have one question for the blogger and for Nabeel.
Why would all loving God ( which love is from his essence) command his (the most beloved people ) to be holy via ( keeping his commandments , his law or shariah in Arabic ) as we read that in leveticus 19 ?
Didn't that " all loving god" know that no one can be holy EXCEPT through the blood of his son?
The problem proceeds even furthermore when that " all loving god " kept punishing his the people ( the most beloved people) severely because they couldn't be holy via keeping the law while that " all loving god" had known that no one can be holy except via his son's blood in the first place ?!!
Morover, that " all loving god " had kept teaching his the most beloved people that he is not a man nor a son of man, and that he is not like anything that they see , yet he punished them severely since they didn't believe that he is a man dying , sleeping, eatng, and a human like them ?!! I mean if one can reach the Father except through the Son , why would that " all loving god" keep hiding this fact from his beloved people for more than 1500 years? I mean I wouldn't expect that act from an ordinary person, yet he is a sincere person, so imagine if that act coming from " all loving god " ?!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
I sense in your question/comments that you have taken an admonition: "Be holy as I am holy"...away from the context of "the all loving god's" provision to enable conformity to that admonition. Briefly, if you start with God's call to Abraham to be the father of "the most beloved people", you see God testing Abraham's faith with obedience in the sacrifice of Isaac. When Abraham moved to obeyed in sacrifice, God provided a means to fulfill that obedience with the ram (Jehovah jirah)...and it was accounted to him as righteousness. The law is a constant and consistent reminded that we are sinners and apart from God's provision we are lost. The provision in the Old Testament was made is a sacrificial system culminating in the yearly, "day of atonement", where God's love was demonstrated over and over again. But it was only accessible through maintaining a relationship within the covenant parameters. And this was a foreshadow of what Jesus; the Lamb of God, would do on the cross, in taking away the sins of the world, once and for all. The provision to conform to the admonition "Be holy as I am holy"...is totally completed in Jesus Christ...because He is both God and man and the perfect Lamb, and by faith in what He did for us...we are made holy and able to be obedient through the abiding presences of the Holy Spirit who has taken up residence in our hearts.
Faith, if it is true faith, is coupled with obedience. Obedience not just to the "law"...although that very much sets a norm...but more so, "relationally"...in our relationships with one another and most of all in our relationship with God "the all loving". The apostle John put it this way in 1 John 4:7-10 "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
I hope this helps to answer your questions.