HAVING SURVEYED THE life and times of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Part 3), Dr. Dirks, in his 400 page Understanding Islam: A Guide for the Judaeo-Christian Reader, moves on to deal, in greater depth (than in his 64-page Concise Introduction) with the sources and content of Islamic Faith.
Understanding the Sources of Islam
This brings us to Dirks’ chapter characterizing the written sources of authentic Islam:
(1) THE REVEALED BOOK:
- The type of text composing the Quran
- Its orality
- How its âyât (“verses”) came piecemeal, in context with events
- How it was committed to memory and writing
- The fitness of its language
- Types and lengths of sûrahs (“chapters”)
- Its verbatim preservation
(2) THE EXEMPLARY PROPHETIC PRACTICE
- The type of authority recognized by Muslims in the remembered and compiled prophetic model (Sunnah)
- The system developed to authenticate aḥâdîth—from which we know the teachings, the habits and behavior of our prophetic model
- The use of aḥâdîth to judge new questions of belief, ethics, socially sanctioned practices
- Reasons for fabricating or failing to transmit aḥâdîth accurately
- The requirement that in order for a ḥadîth to be fully acceptable, that it must have preserved—along with its text—the names of the persons, link-by-link, who transmitted the reported eye-witness event, through unbroken chain, traced back to the Prophet ﷺ
- The development of biographies of narrators (who number some 13,000), their skills and personal reliability
- The strength of aḥâdîth as no greater than its weakest link, i.e., its weakest transmitter. The strength categories of aḥâdîth are: sound; good; weak; fabricated.
- The use of only “sound” and “good” aḥâdîth as texts for determining Islamic Law/ jurisprudence/ religious guidance
- The monumental scholarly industry (within 200 years of the Prophet’s passing) of compiling systematic collections of strong (“sound”) aḥâdîth
Pillars of Prophetic Faith
(1) First, as to Islam’s “Articles of Faith,” we begin with a discussion of the need for an absolute, watertight understanding that God/ Allah is single and without peers—not the preferred deity of one’s personal untutored imagination or of one’s ethnic group; nor is He a panel of “persons” sharing a unified divine essence and cooperative function.
The Unlimited cannot be encapsulated within our conceptual abilities, yet we can capture progressively a tentative grasp of the Transcendent Deity through considering His “Names” as presented in the Quran and aḥâdîth of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
(2) Secondly, Allah has sent progressive revelation through a succession of human prophets and Book-bringing messengers. The final Prophet ﷺ brought a final Book, incorruptible and correcting the distortion of earlier Books.
(3) Thirdly, unseen beings (the angels and the jinn) coexist with mankind, and so does the cursed Satan / Shayṭân / Iblîs—who has chosen as his raison d’être, subsequent to his rebuffed defiance of the Creator, to bring down together with himself—in the end—as many men and jinn who are taken in by his deceptive promises and who agree to follow his way of self-indulgence, arrogance and pride.
Gabriel, the angel who has always brought revelation to God’s prophets, is referred to in the Quran as the “Spirit of Trustworthiness”—also referred to as the “spirit of truth,” the “spirit of holiness. More below on this key subject.
(4) Fourth, the end-of-time Day of Accounting is to be the traumatic, culminating Event of earthly history—wherein one’s balance sheet will have been comprehensively calculated, with nothing left out, in response to man’s choices and the efforts he has made throughout his earthly life. The final tally, figuring in Allah’s Mercy as a “trump card,” and judged in terms of man’s intentions, is to be weighed up and evaluated:
- Rewardable with pleasure for those who have trusted in and submitted to their Creator, or
- Rewardable with punishment for those who have rejected His overtures in willful arrogance and pride of independence from His standards, those who have chosen rather to please someone other than Allah
(5) Finally, Dr. Dirks presents the all-encompassing concept of Al-Qadar, which describes the overall operational “truth” of our existence, with components such as:
- The context of life within a smoothly running, natural-law-governed world, under the established control and knowledge of its beneficent Creator
- Humankind’s “free will” and its built-in limitations
- The possibility of divine intervention.
The root meaning of qadar is “measure, balance, set amount”—giving the term its basic sense that the parameters of our existence have been set up and are administered by Allah. Such parameters include the fact that only Allah knows each detail of each event, together with the outcome of each individual decision and the interplay of innumerable other selected options made and acted upon in our world. His progressive Guidance through history is designed to shepherd man through his personal challenges and intentional choices.
The Spirit of Holiness
This topic—relevant to the authenticity of a divine origin of revelation—is quite important for the Christian convert to Islam to understand—and for all Muslims in the West to be aware of—since the verses of Christian Scripture quoted (below) by Dr. Dirks are ones understood by Muslim scholars to refer forward to the coming of the subsequent prophet, Muhammad ﷺ, as the promised heir to the teaching of Jesus.
Gabriel, “the spirit of holiness” in the Quran, can be equated to and identified with the form of words spoken by Jesus in the Christian’s Gospel of John: “the (holy) spirit.” This biblical phrase is typically translated with capital letters as “the (Holy) Spirit” to match with the later Church doctrine of the Trinity, in which the “Holy Spirit” is a third member of the “Godhead.”
Bible, Gospel of John 14:16 “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. He is the Spirit who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is in you [or, will be in you].”
Bible, Gospel of John 14:25-28 “I have told you this while I am still with you. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you.” …
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you….I am leaving, but I will come back to you.”
Bible Gospel of John 15:26-27…29 “The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me. And you, too, will speak about me, because you have been with me from the very beginning. … I have told you this now before it all happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe.
Bible, Gospel of John 16:8. 12-13 “I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear. When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own authority, but he will speak of what he hears, and will tell you of things to come.
It appears that the above texts have confused various wordings of Jesus in which these quotations speak of two distinct “personages” as if spoken in the same breath. The first personage is the coming prophet who will pick up the chain of revelation from Allah—where Jesus left off. He is the “(another) Helper” who is spoken of as a human person, whereas the second, “the Spirit” or “(the) holy spirit,” is a non-human agent of Allah, who has always worked in coordination with Allah’s prophets across the centuries.
While both the two personages are needed to work in concert in order to communicate truly divine revelation, they are not identical. If the divine agent, the (holy) Spirit has always inspired and moved the prophets of God, how could Jesus have talked about the Spirit as if he were a totally new actor in Allah’s drama of prophetic guidance? It seems that multiple reported sayings of Jesus have been conflated to give the false impression that “the Spirit” is a divine agent making a first-time appearance and acting in a non-human revelatory and guiding role.
Note that in Christian Scripture, just as in the Quran, that Gabriel is named as the angel of delivering revelation and other blessing to humans:
Bible, Gospel of Luke 1:18-19 Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know if this is so? I am an old man, and my wife [Elizabeth] is old also.” “I am Gabriel,” the angel answered. I stand in the presence of God, who sent me to speak to you and tell you this good news….”
Bible, Gospel of Luke 1: 26-28; 34-35; 38 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a girl promised in marriage to a man named Joseph… The girl’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” … Mary said to the angel, “I am a virgin. How, then, can this be?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you. … “I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.
To be continued, Inshâ’Allah…