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Some Information About Islam For Christians

by Robert (in Russia)
as part of a discussion on the Christian Gays List Serve

I personally believe that it is true that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but their concepts of God are different. There are people, both among Christians and among Muslims, who believe that God and Allah are two different beings. Once, I heard a popular song where a Christian and a Muslim had a friendly conversation. It was said there that "God and Allah were smiling, looking at them from the heavens." I believe that this is the wrong concept. Both Christians and Muslims believe that there is only one God.

Basically, there are two main hypotheses of what the word "Allah" means in Arabic. According to one of them, it literally means "the God": "al" is the definite article in Arabic, "ilah" means "god." According to the other hypothesis, "Allah" is just the proper name of God. In any case, it is closely related to the Old Testament words for God. The most part of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but some chapters were written in Aramaic. The most common word for God in Hebrew is "Elohim." This is the plural form (the ending "-im" is the ending of the plural number). The singular form is El or Eloah. The Aramaic word for God is "Elah." Eloah, Elah, and Allah are very close and basically they are different forms of the same word. No wonder that Arabic-speaking Christians and some other Christians who live in the Muslim world call God "Allah."


According to Islamic law (Sharia), there are three cases when a person may be executed:
1) murder,
2) adultery,
3) apostasy (leaving Islam).

It is based, not on the Quran, but on one of the hadith (a story about Muhammad) where he said that a person may be executed only because of these reasons.

Basically, Islamic theologians equate homosexuality to adultery regarding punishment. However, this does not mean that any Muslim is allowed to kill a gay. The decision regarding the death penalty must be made by Muslim authorities. There are different opinions regarding who exactly has such authority, and many Muslim theologians say that only Khalif (the Muslim ruler of the Muslim theocratic country) can do so. However, there are no Khalifs now. Well, this is the opinion of many of Sunni theologians. Other Muslim groups may have other opinions.

Understanding Islam

I noticed that many Christians study the Bible many years and always find something new there, but after they read the Quran one time, they think that they understand everything there. In the same way, many Muslims study the Quran many years and learn new things there, but after they read the Bible once, they think that they understand everything.

I personally read Russian translations of the Quran about 25 times (I have 8 Russian versions of it). I read the Arabic text of the Quran 2 times. I have 2 Tafsirs in Russian (Muslim interpretations of the Quran) and I read them several times. I studied Muslim theology by myself, including the principles of interpretation of the Quran.

In my opinion, it is harder to understand and interpret the Quran than the Bible. There are, at least, three reasons for this:

1. The understanding and interpretation of the Quran requires good knowledge of Sunnah, that is, stories about Muhammad or those told by Muhammad. In turn, it requires not only to know the stories themselves, but also to discern which of them are reliable and which of them are not.

2. The text of the Quran is not very orderly. Themes are often switched and repeated in another place. Often, there is no context for Quranic passages in the Quran itself (in many cases, the context can be found in Sunnah).

3. The Arabic words may have many meanings. So, many passages of the Quran may be understood in different ways.

Muslims consider that only the Arabic text of the Quran is the Quran. They do not consider translations to be the Quran. They say that any translation changes the meaning of it. In fact, it is impossible to translate something from one language to another language with 100% accuracy. In every translation, there is some loss. It is the same with the Bible.

In principle, a Muslim who has read the New Testament, can make a conclusion that the New Testament treats women badly and quote verses like: 1 Cor. 11:2-16; 14:34-35; Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 2:11-15; 1 Pet. 3:1-6. And it is true that for a very long time Christians oppressed women. Only relatively recently women attained gender equality and until now many churches do not allow women to be priests or pastors.

The Status of Muslim Women

During their history, Muslim countries have had a different attitude to women and it depended and still depends not only on the Islamic law (Sharia), but mainly on pre-Islamic traditions that were absorbed by Islam (adats). For example, generally, Arabs have been more harsh toward women that Turkish-speaking Muslims. However, even in Arabic countries, there were examples of good attitudes toward women. For example, throughout history there have been a lot of female Muslim theologians. The first one of them was Aisha, one of Muhammad's wives. She was highly respected by male theologians and many male theologians learned from her. As far as I know, in Christianity, women were allowed to study theology only in 20th century.

Another example: One of the most popular Russian translations of the Quran was made by a Russian woman who received Islam. Her last name is Porokhova. She married a Syrian Arab and moved to Syria. Her husband and father-in-law are Muslim theologians. They helped her with her translation which includes a lot of comments. Her husband was the editor of this translation. Later, it was checked by the Muslim theologian committee of Al-Azkar University (one of the most prestigious Muslim theological universities in the world, it is located in Egypt). The committee worked 6 years and approved her work.

The Quran has many passages that have to do with women and it is impossible to mention all of them here. However, there are some general principles:

General Principles Regarding Women

1. The Quran promotes the traditional family where the wife stays at home, takes care for children, and does home work while the husband works and provides for the family financially. This model of family existed not only in Muslim countries, but also in Christian countries. Later, women in Western countries (including Russia) obtained the right to work and earn money by themselves. However, even now, in these countries some women do not work, but stay at home and take care for their children because it is not easy to both work and take care of the children. It might be even more so in Muslim countries because in most Muslim families there are many children (unlike Western families).

2. There is a general principle in Islamic law that if something is sinful, then any ways that lead to this action are also considered sinful. Islam strictly forbids sex out of marriage (adultery and fornication). Because of this, it sets some restrictions on the behavior of men and women:

a) A man and a woman who are not close relatives are not allowed to be together without a third person. Men and women pray in mosques in different places: either men pray in the first rows and women in the last rows or men and women pray in different rooms.

b) Men and women are required to be properly dressed. For men, these restrictions are not very strict. They are just required to cover themselves from waist to knees. It means, for example, that they are not allowed to wear shorts or go topless. Women are expected to cover everything, except their hands and faces. Actually, there are different opinions here. In Sunni Islam, there are 4 madhabs (schools of Islamic law): Hanifi, Shafii, Maliki, and Hanbali. These schools have different opinions regarding whether women should cover their faces or not. For Western people, fully dressed Muslim women with their heads (and sometimes faces) covered appear to be signs of oppression toward women. However, Muslims have an absolutely different view. They say that this protects women from men's lusts and thus protects women's dignity. Well, this is true that some of Western women's clothes makes them sexually attractive to men.

c) There are some restrictions on women's travelings. Some madhabs allow women to travel only with a male close relative. Some allow groups of women to travel. This rule is also to prevent sexual violence. BTW, although Sunni Muslims usually follow one of madhabs, they are allowed to follow rules of another madhab for some actions. That is, for example, Hanifi madhab allows women to travel only with their close relatives while Shafii madhab allows them to travel in groups. Hanifi women who cannot find close relatives to travel with, may "switch" to Shafii madhab and travel in groups. Anyway, according to Muslim point of view, these rules are not to oppress women, but to protect their dignity and to prevent sexual abuse.

3. Islam takes into consideration the natural differences between men and women. For example, in the Quran, there is a principle that two women's testimonies equal one man's testimony. Muslim theologians explain it, saying that usually women are more compassionate than men. So, it may be harder for women to testify against somebody who may be punished on the basis of their testimony. So, they say this is the reason why two women should testify.

4. Muslim theologians say that in pre-Islamic times, Arabs treated women very badly, and Islam was a great improvement of their position. For example, Arabs often killed their female babies because they were pure and gave priority to male babies. The Quran strictly forbade this. Arabs could have any number of wives and could divorce them for any reason. After divorce, women did not have any income. Wives could not divorce their husbands. Islamic law regulated divorces. It prohibited some kinds of divorces. Sunni Islam prohibits temporal marriages (they are allowed in Shia Islam). After divorce, a woman is allowed to stay in her ex-husband's house for some period of time and get his support. He has to provide for their children financially until they reach a certain age. At the time of marriage, a women receives a certain amount of money or a valuable gift from her husband. The purpose of this is that the woman may survive after divorce. The Quran allows a man to have four wives (while before Islam Arabs could have any number of wives). According to the Quran, the man has to provide for every wife financially, take care for each wife equally, and love each of them equally. For many Muslim men, these are not easy requirements. So, the great majority of them have only one wife. Muslim theologians give various reasons why polygamy is allowed in Islam. One of them is that Muslims at the time of Muhammad and later had many wars. Many men were killed. Many women became widows. If was hard for them to marry again because there were less men than women. In this situation, if they became second (third or fourth) wives, it improved their financial situation and they were not lonely. Another reason given by Muslim theologians is that they believe that many men have a tendency to polygamy by their nature. Many Western men have girlfriends, but they do not have any responsibility to them. So, they say that polygamy is "legalization" of girlfriends, but when they become official wives, husbands are required to provide for them financially and take care for them. So, Muslim theologians believe that it is better.

Virgins In Paradise - Houri

Regarding houri (virgins in paradise), in order to understand and interpret the Quran, it is important to know Sunnah. Sunnah gives three principles:

1. Righteous men and righteous women will receive equal rewards in paradise. It implies that there might be male houri for righteous women.

2. Nobody knows what Allah prepared in paradise for the righteous Muslims. This means that the physical scenes of paradise described in the Quran may be allegories of something else. Some Muslim theologians say that houri is an allegory. In the same way, it is hard to tell whether the New Jerusalem described in Rev. 21-22 will be a physical city or if it is an allegory of some spiritual things.

3. The highest reward for righteous Muslims will be that they will be able to see Allah in paradise. So, the main reward will be not physical, but spiritual.

Other passages in the Quran and some hadiths say that righteous men will be with their righteous wives. It gives the impression that houri are for those who do not have righteous wives.

There are many different opinions regarding this matter among Muslim theologians. It is not a simple matter at all.

Robert is available to answer questions if you want to write to him.

See also Muslim Information for Christians - 99 Names of God by Robert