/ Sep 15, 2009
Oftentimes our Muslim friends attempt to paint a more beautiful picture of Allah than it really is, presenting him as a god who is compassionate and loving in harmony with the biblical character of God.
Having lived in Saudi Arabia, my home town, and growing up as a very devout Wahhabi Muslim in such a staunchly Islamic country where we have very little contact with Christians, I am astonished about some arguments my Muslim people make nowadays when sharing with Christians about Allah and Islam. They try to depict Allah in a way that I have never heard it taught in the mosque or among devout Muslims in particular. They desperately attempt to present Allah as a god who hears and answers the prayers of his people when they call upon him. For this purpose they present to us verses from the Quran that actually, when examined, backfire at the Muslims claim, showing that their god is not a god who truly cares for them but rather a god that cares for himself and his needs, just as humans often do.
We never were taught that Allah loves to answer our prayers, or that we can come to him as we are and bring our requests. Yet, living now in a western country, I see that Muslims seek to “adapt” the image of Allah to what is taught in the Bible and try to make Allah look similar to the biblical God. In other word, they try to Christianize Allah’s image.
In this short article, I want to give one example of this western Muslim adaptation of Allah. We will look at two of those verses from the Quran that Muslims commonly appeal to and also present the interpretation of these verses by classical, i.e., authoritative Muslim commentators. I want to provide a simplified analysis that can help our readers, and mainly our Muslim seekers, see for themselves that Allah’s alleged compassion and answer to prayers are merely wishful thinking on the part of some of our Muslim friends.
The first verse that we will examine is found in Sura 2:186:
“And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me that they MAY walk in the right way.” – Q. 2:186 Shakir (emphasis ours)
This verse, even though at first glance it talks about Allah, the god of Islam, providing an assurance to his followers that he will respond to their prayers and answer them, we can still read between the lines some conditions attached for this to happen:
- The verse requires the person who is calling on Allah to follow Allah’s commands and his call. In other words, he has to perform his duties and not do anything unjust or unpleasing to Allah.
- The person has to actually believe in Allah. Here is where the confusion arises. If this verse is directed by Allah to his followers (the Muslims) then what is the purpose of Allah still asking them to believe in him? Apparently, Allah is unsure of their devotion and the sincerity of their hearts towards him. In fact, this demand by itself shows that Allah is not a god that provides any assurances to his adherents to answer their prayers if they call up on him.
- The passage provides no guarantee whatsoever for the individual who is calling on Allah whether his/her prayers will indeed be answered even if they have been obedient to all the commands of Allah and walked in the right way.
Al Qurtubi1, in his exegesis of this verse, mentioned that in order for a Muslim to have his/her prayers answered by Allah, certain conditions must apply:
- The person who is praying and asking Allah must not be committing any transgressions against Allah, knowingly and unknowingly. He refers to Sura 7:55 to support his view on this point:
“Call on your Lord humbly and secretly; surely He does not love those who exceed the limits.” – Q. 7:55 Shakir
What does “exceed the limits” mean?
According to Al Qurtubi, it means:
- Not asking Allah for any forbidden things
- Not asking Allah for things while committing sin(s) in your life, such as earning interest on your money, steeling from others, not being honest in his/her monetary transactions
- Asking Allah constantly for the same thing yet not having faith that Allah is going to answer the call in the first place.
- The person calling on Allah must do so with a clear heart and a clear conscience. He must not be distracted mentally while praying.
In fact, al Qurtubi notes that according to Ibn Atta, asking Allah has conditions that must be followed by the one who asks. Those conditions include:
- Humbleness & humility, fear, hope, continuity in asking, and eating non-forbidden food (halal)
- Ibn Atta also said: the act of asking must be done in truth.
- The act of asking must be done at the right time(s) which can include:
- At the times of breaking the fast or at dawn before starting a fast, the time between the prayer calling and the start of prayer, the time between the second prayer and third prayer during the day, and on Wednesdays. Other times may include urgent or emergency times and out of necessity.
- The main purpose of the calling must be to glorify the prophet Muhammad.
- The calling must be done in a manner that is audibly clear and contains no chanting.
When reading the conditions above one can almost assume that we are reading a legal contract filled with strings rather than reading the word of a god (Allah) who claims to have an open-door policy.
The other verse that we are going to examine is found in Sura 40:60:
وَقَالَ رَبُّكُمُ ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَسْتَكْبِرُونَ عَنْ عِبَادَتِي سَيَدْخُلُونَ جَهَنَّمَ دَاخِرِينَ
“And your Lord says: Call upon Me, I will answer you; surely those who are too proud for My service shall soon enter hell abased” – Q. 40:60 Shakir
The Arabic transliteration of this verse reads:2
“Waqala rabbukumu odAAoonee astajib lakum inna allatheena yastakbiroona AAan AAibadatee sayadkhuloona jahannama dakhireena”
The word in question in the preceding verse is “Call upon Me” or “odAAoonee” (ادْعُونِي) as the Arabic reads. In reading the commentaries3 regarding this verse we find that early Muslims understood this word “odAAoonee” (ادْعُونِي) to mean “worship me” or “serve me”. In fact, when Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was asked about the meaning of this verse he indicated that the word “Call upon Me” or “odAAoonee” (ادْعُونِي) is a word that is derived from the Arabic root word “D-A-A” (دعا). According to Muhammad, this word means to “serve Allah in worship” (“Ibada” (عبادة) in the Arabic). Furthermore, in checking an Arabic Lexicon4 for the word used by Muhammad which is “Ibada”, we find that the root word “A-B-D” (عبد) points to the act of religious worship.
Having examined the two verses that are commonly used by Muslims as their main proof for Allah’s dedication to answer their prayers, we cannot find in these verses even a shred of evidence of any sort, or any guarantee regarding Allah’s desire for answering their call or jumping to their rescue compared to what the Lord of the Bible, the true God, who promises His followers time and time again to answer their prayers:
“call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” (Psalm 50:15)
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)
“In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. … In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” (John 16:23-24, 25-27)
“... and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:19-21)
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14, 15).
As a result, we find ourselves left with no choice but to conclude that our Muslim friends in their attempt to use such verses are either being misled or they themselves are attempting to mislead others. In light of this, I would like to extend my invitation to those Muslims who are genuinely seeking to examine these facts for themselves and to ask God to guide their quest for the truth:
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36)
Forever be the honor and glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who hears and answers. Amen.
1 Arabic source, translation is my own.
3 Ibn Kathir, Al Jalalayn, Al Tabari and Al Qurtubi
4 Lane's Lexicon, source
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