WORLD RELIGIONS 101
When Mohammed Meets Jesus
May 18, 2003
We continue the series called When Buddha meets Jesus, and we’re not just talking about Buddha and Buddhism, but we are looking at some of the major religions of the world. The goal of this series, which is to teach all of us how to discern the religious and philosophic perspective of any person you may encounter.
I was talking to someone at a coffee bar a while back, and somehow this person said, “Well, I’m not religious.” That is simply not true; everyone is religious—whether atheist or agnostic, Muslim, Hindu, or a Shintoiste. We are all religious in that we all have a basic worldview. We have answered certain questions about ultimate reality, who that is, and how we are to live our lives. And we live our lives according to that particular worldview/religious perspective. Now, someone may not have consciously decided, “This is my philosophy,” or “This is the religion I am following.” They may not have a name for it, but everyone has a worldview. So how can you and I detect the worldview of anyone we encounter? We do that by asking what I call, the Big Four Questions.
Last week we said that the ultimate standard of truth is the Christian faith, the Christian worldview. We answered the Four Questions according to God’s Word. Last week we looked at question number one: What is ultimate reality? Ultimate reality is the ontological Trinity, that is, the pre-existent Christ—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. That is the ultimate starting point.
The second question we looked at is: How do you know? We know primarily through revelation. God has spoken. He has revealed Himself to us in His authoritative self-attesting word. Now, there are many ways we can know things. We can know things through reason—being rational, logical; we know things empirically, through sense observation; we know things pragmatically through experiencing them. But primarily, our ultimate standard and starting point is the Word of God. It is revelational.
The third big question is: What happens at death? God’s Word tells us in Hebrews that when we die there is judgment, and we either spend an eternity in heaven with God or an eternity in hell, separated from Him. When you ask the question, “What happens at death?” that tells you where a person is coming from, as far as what they perceive the problem of mankind to be and the solution. The problem with all of us is that we are separated from God because we are born sinners, and we choose to sin. The solution is that God has provided a solution for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Question number four: How should you live your life? We live, Galatians 5 says, by keeping in step with God’s Spirit. When you come to know God in Jesus Christ—it’s amazing—He forgives you, He cleanses you of all your sins, He credits to your account (get this) the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Isn’t that great?! He not only forgives you but He also says you are perfectly accepted because of Christ’s righteousness. And He places His Holy Spirit, a deposit of His Spirit, inside of your life and inside my life so that we begin the process of conforming our life and conforming who we are to Jesus. That’s great. Those are the answers to the Big Four Questions.
In this message, we ask those Big Four questions of the religion known as Islam. It is the second largest religion in the world, just behind the Christian faith. To talk about Islam, in the providence of God, we have had somebody on our campus this weekend, talking to our students in a very effective manner; his name is Afshin Ziafat. Afshin is a graduate of Stratford High School in Houston and went to college at UT (University of Texas). He speaks throughout the country at college campuses and churches on what God has done and what God is doing in his life. Afshin has taken time out of his schedule to be with us to talk about the religion of Islam. Afshin, welcome.
Afshin – Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Ben – Afshin, the first thing I notice about you here tonight is that you are wearing bowling shoes, and I like that. Kind of hold your shoes up there, and let’s get a camera. Those are cool. I’m not that cool yet. I think I may be too old for that.
Afshin – Yeah, you are, I think.
Ben – I am too old?
Afshin – Yeah. I speak on college campuses, like you said. I have to stay younger.
Ben – Okay, I appreciate that. That’s a great way, right off the bat, to kind of offend the person you are meeting with, but that’s great. It’s all part of it (joking here). Afshin, for those of us here who do not know you and know your story, tell us a bit about yourself. I know you were born in Houston…what happened after that? (Laughter)
Afshin – All right, from the beginning. Well, I was born in Houston, and when I was 2 years old my family moved back to Iran where my parents and my family are from. We moved back to the capital in Tehran. Some of you older folks may remember that in the late 70’s an Islamic revolution hit that country, and my family was there in the midst of all that fighting. My dad decided he’d worked way too hard to become a doctor to see everything go down the drain if a bullet were to hit one of us, so we got out of there and moved back to Houston when I was in the middle of the first grade. You want me to keep going?
Ben – Sure, go.
Afshin – We moved back to the states. God was working in my life way before I became a Christian. He provided for me an amazing Christian lady who would become my tutor. This lady taught me the English language by reading me books every day. One day in the second grade, she gave me a small New Testament Bible. She said, “Afshin, you are not going to understand this book, but this is the most important book you will ever read in your life. Hold onto it, and read it later in your life.” She planted a seed in my life in the second grade that wouldn’t ultimately come to fruition until 10 years later.
I grew up a Muslim. I followed the teaching of Islam—that is all I was taught. My senior year in high school I saw a TV show about Jesus—just a secular, historical documentary. I was intrigued by the person of Jesus, and I went upstairs looking for the Bible that I was given in the second grade. I found it in the bottom of my closet after all these years, and I opened it up to the first book of the New Testament—Matthew. It starts off saying, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, Son of David,” and it just drew me in, and I read the whole book of Matthew in one sitting. I didn’t understand it all, but God just developed a hunger in my heart to keep reading and reading until I finally understood the truth of Jesus. And it was shortly after that, that I came to know Christ.
Ben – That’s awesome. So you just had this book, the Bible, tucked away in your closet for years and years, and that show just triggered that memory.
Afshin – There was a guy who I played basketball with in high school, and one day I said, “Jesus,” and he said, “Man, that’s my God.” I said, “No, it’s not; it’s your prophet.” And he goes, “No, He’s my God,” and I said, “No, you’re mistaken.” See, I had no idea that Christians believed that Jesus was God in human form. This TV show talked about how some worship Jesus as God. So I said, “Man, I’ve got to find out about this” I was intrigued because Islam, in my opinion, says God is a very impersonal God. So I was intrigued about this Jesus who wanted a personal relationship that is why I went and found the book and started reading.
Ben – Now, when you came to know Christ in high school, you were actually debating with a guy at school and you were actually debating on the side of Islam yet you were secretly doing something else when you went home.
Afshin – Yeah, secretly I am reading through the Bible at home. Reading more and more and hiding my reading from my father and the rest of my family, all the while debating on the side of Islam. I got to Romans where I started reading about a righteousness that comes apart from the law, apart from being good and it says that there is none righteous not even one. It then says that this righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe and that nailed me. Because I thought I was born a Muslim, I was stamped a Muslim and I would always be a Muslim. But that verse said that Jesus came for anyone who believes and that righteousness, a right standing with God, can only come through faith in Him. That’s when my eyes just opened up to what the gospel truly is.
Ben – Great story…that is a similar experience, of course he wasn’t coming from a Muslim background, as Martin Luther. That verse in Romans 1:16-17, just totally melted his heart once God showed Him what that meant.
Let’s stop there. Let’s take a time out because I want to talk to everyone here tonight about Islam because we hear a lot about the Islamic faith today in the news. Most of our knowledge of Islam is simply what people are telling them on CNN or Fox, or perhaps they watch Oprah as she brings in different people who say they are Muslim, or Christian or a Jew but they are really a relativist. I want to talk briefly about some of the basic tenets of Islam and really see how Mohammed or the Koran if you would, answers those big four questions that I talked about earlier and you are going to educate us on that.
Afshin – Ok, I’ll try.
Ben – The first question, the first big question we are learning to ask is, What is Ultimate Reality?
Afshin – By the way, I always say this when I do this, I am not a scholar of Islam. However, I have studied it and I was raised and taught it and I do have the perspective of experience. Ultimate reality in Islam is basically Allah, their name for God. Allah, who Muslims ultimately believe Islam is the only real true monotheistic religion. And Islam if you get to the heart of it is basically summed up with the unity and the oneness of God. That is the foundation of Islam and nothing is like and unto him. In fact there is a creed, the Shahada, that Muslims have to recite throughout their life. Basically this creed is, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah.” That is why it is so hard for a Muslim to understand the concept of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ as being God in human form. Because to equate a human with God is really to commit the most grievous sin in Islam which is “shirk”- to associate anything with God. So it is very monotheistic, one God who is transcendent over all his creation and we ultimately can’t really know him in a personal way the way we know Jesus – how we know God through Jesus, a personal relationship. But ultimately they can know his will, his attributes and how to obey him. And so it is not a personal relationship.
Ben – Yes and we have to realize too that as you look at the religion of Islam, it is dated to 622 AD which is approximately 600 years after the inception of Christianity around 32 or 33 AD. So when Mohammed was writing the Koran, he wrote much of it, including parts of the Old and New Testaments and mentioning many favorable things to Jews and Christians because he kind of wanted to gain their support early on.
Afshin – That’s right. Do you want to get to the Koran now?
Ben – Let’s go to question number two now, that is the Koran, How do you know from an Islamic perspective?
Afshin – First, Muslims believe Mohammed was born in 570 AD, then at the age of 40 in one of his times of seclusion – you have to know that Mecca was a cultural hub where idol worship was going on. So Mohammed was one of the ones that had an aversion to all these different gods and that is where the strict monotheism comes from. And in one of his seclusions, he claims the angel Gabriel came and pressed on him and basically said, “Read.” In fact, the word Koran literally means reading or recital. And so, he pressed on him to read, he (Mohammed) said, “Read what?” and he just kept saying, “Read.”
Ultimately what Muslims believe is that Mohammed read the word of God literally. Actually Mohammed did not write it himself because he was illiterate. So Mohammed would dictate what he read in his moments of seclusion and he would dictate it to scribes who would write it on parchment, on scraps of leather, on leaves. Ultimately these men would memorize it. As some wars broke out – people were getting killed off that had memorized these writings. So they decided to get all of these writings and bring them together to a book. I must say this now. Muslims believe that the Koran is not made from a human, that literally there is a template, the mother of the book in heaven that this was basically read from, and what we have today is a copy of that template.
The Koran is very revered in Islam. One of the greatest miracles is the miracle of the Koran and by the way, let me say this; one Muslim scholar equates the Koran to Jesus in Christianity. He says, “Jesus is the divine expression of God, God’s will and that is what the Koran is. They compare Mohammed to Mary because Mohammed was the vehicle by which the divine will of God came. Obviously that is a wrong understanding of Jesus.
Ben – Is it true that when he was first having these visions and dreams, he didn’t know if they were demonic or not in nature? Wasn’t it his wife who encouraged him to go with this vision and dreams?
Afshin – Yes. At first he didn’t know, and his wife was older, you said it, that’s exactly right, she encouraged him and it took off from there.
Ben – And the Koran, they do mention there are other revelations of Allah, independent from the first five books of the Old Testament also in the Gospel of Jesus. So they do refer to Moses, David, and Jesus as Prophets. They basically say, just like in the Mormon religion that you need the Koran or you need the Pearl of Great Price to get a correct interpretation of the scripture.
Afshin – Basically, Muslims believe that all the prophets came to point to a certain people, to point them back to Allah, but then the people corrupted the word. And then ultimately, God sent the last prophet, who is Mohammed, and they believe that he completed, that he is the seal of the prophets.
Ben – I think the weakness with that is, when you look at Scripture, really that claim is refuted. Because any claim that came after the Revelation, it says in Scripture that it should be matched up to that standard. There are groups like Islam that started some 600 years after the Christian faith. Or like the LDS (Latter Day Saints) in the 1820’s that contradict the standard. When they contradict the standard, they are automatically casting that revelation totally aside and starting a new thing, a knock-off if you would.
Afshin – Actually, some Muslims claim that Jesus prophesied about Mohammed. Do you know where?
Ben – Yeah, sure, in John, predicting the Holy Spirit, they reinterpret that to be Mohammed.
Afshin – Yeah and sometimes they say that He (Jesus) did prophesy about Mohammed but not at that Scripture, but we won’t go there.
Ben – Number three. This third big question, again, is so important because it kind of sets up from anybody’s perspective what they perceive to be the problem and solution of mankind. What happens at death? And this is where really my heart as an evangelist really starts to pump and that is these next two questions. Islam basically, if I may start at this point, believes that man is born sinless. They don’t believe in the fallen nature of man from Adam and Eve’s sin. They just believe that that just proves man’s weakness and frailty but not that man, his nature was tainted and that he needed to be redeemed. So, if you believe that you are sinless, you don’t need a savior. If I may chase this rabbit for just a second…
There was this scholar that I read once and he said, “The idea of Jesus is like, the notion of Jesus is like I am sitting on a dock … by the bay. (laughter) The idea of Jesus and me sitting on a dock and a man running by and declaring his love for me and throwing himself in the water to prove his love for me is ridiculous, it is absurd.” When I read that, I said, man there it is. See, a Muslim thinks he is on the dock, he’s fine. But a Christian, he understands, he is in the water, he is drowning and he needs a savior. See that is a fundamental difference when you believe you’re sinless and when the word of God teaches we are born in sin.
So you are born sinless and all throughout your life, there is an angel that sits on either shoulder that records your good and evil deeds. This is what Muslims are taught. At the end of life, at the Day of Judgment, your good deeds and bad deeds are placed on a scale and whichever one outweighs the other, will determine your destiny. If you have more good deeds in your life, then you are going to heaven. If you have more bad deeds in your life, you are going to hell. All of your life you are accruing good and bad and you never ultimately know where you stand and you just hope that you are good enough. If your good outweighs the bad then you literally cross over a bridge, over hell, and if your balance is found wanting in the area of good – then you will fall in. Otherwise you will pass over into heaven.
Ben – Let’s talk about this thing that is called paradise in the Koran, seems like a good deal for the guys and a bad deal for the ladies.
Afshin – Yeah, it really does. There are some scriptures in the Koran that say, the men will all be sitting in the thrones and they will all have female companions.
Ben – And they will serve us for all eternity.
Afshin – Yeah, pretty much. Next subject.
Ben – It’s interesting to me because their worldview, their religion, in a sense is very earthly and their very concept of heaven is very earthly. And there is a power in that, especially in recruiting men adherents to your religion. But, you see the same in Mormonism.
In Mormonism, one of the powers in their lie or deception, if you would, about the Christian faith is, Oh, when you get to heaven you are going to be with your family. You are going to have so many virgins, (and this of course that appeals to our sexual nature). It is contrary to reality and contrary to how God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture.
Afshin – Yep.
Ben – Let’s move on to number four, which is, in light of those first three questions which are: What is ultimate reality? How do you know? What happens at death?
Number four, How should you live your life? You get down to the five core teachings of Islam.
Afshin – Yeah. Let me hit those and first I am going to come back to a general thing. Basically, Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal of that relationship is to be conformed to the character of God. Islam on the other hand is rather a religion, it is just an understanding of what God’s will is and the outcome for that is just obedience. That is how he is to live his life, it is not to know God, it is not to conform to God, but ultimately to obey. Islam literally means submission. Muslim means “one who submits.” And so they view, Allah, as a task master and a slave. It is totally different from our concept of a Father and His children. It is again not a knowing thing, it is a doing thing. So throughout their life they are doing these five pillars of faith.
The first one is the Shahada, the creed that I have already talked about. Basically, they recite this, “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.”
Secondly, there are the prayers that they pray five times a day. They pray. There is a set prayer in Arabic they go through and they face Mecca, a holy site and they pray five times a day.
Thirdly, they give alms, about 1/30 about 2.5 % of their income to the poor.
Fourthly, there is the month of Ramadan were they fast from sun up to sun down. They don’t drink water, eat, no sexual relations- nothing of the physical pleasure at all.
And the fifth one is pilgrimage, ”haj”- which means once in their lifetime, they have to go to Mecca. Here’s the little comma, “if they have the means.” See, that is really subjective, when your salvation is in the balance. What is that, 40K a year? Or I don’t know. Basically, all their life, they are trying to do this. Do you want to jump in for a moment or try to say something?
Ben – No, go ahead.
Afshin – I tell Muslims that Christianity teaches something totally different than the scale idea. Christianity teaches that no man can ever earn salvation on his own. By the way, Muslims believe that Jesus Christ lived a perfect sinless life. But they don’t understand why. So I share with them that He lived a perfect sinless life as God in human form and died on the cross and shed his blood. I explain further that if you receive Him, God doesn’t look at your good and bad deeds on a scale he looks at you and sees Christ’s blood covering you. He sees you white as snow and accepts you because of what Jesus already did in your life. Now, if that is the truth then how do you live your life? How does a Muslim live his life and how does a Christian live his life? A Muslim will look at me when I say that and say, “That doesn’t make any sense. You’re telling me that you receive grace on the front end. You say a prayer and you can just go sin and do whatever you want, you can go murder or you can sleep with whoever you want?”
Paul answers this question in Romans 6, “Shall we go on sinning now that we are no longer under the law, under the rules system? But now that we are under grace. Certainly not. Though formerly you were slaves to sin.” It is not about being a slave to God. Formerly before you were a Christian, you were slaves to sin. You had to – and it had the power over you to sin. It says, “Though you were formerly slaves to sin you have now become slaves to righteousness.” Meaning the Christian does good works also, he must produce righteousness. However, his good works are not a means to his salvation; rather, his good works are a proof of his salvation: a proof that he was saved in the first place.
Now here is the big point, don’t miss this. The motivation to live for God is different. In Islam, what’s the motive? The motive is fear. And not a holy, righteous fear of God like we read about in the Bible, a reverence of God. But a fear, that if I’m not good enough, ok, then I am going to get cast to hell. So my motive for living and obeying is fear. For Christianity, we have a totally different motive. Because if it is already done, Jesus said, “It is finished,” then what’s my motive to live? The motive is the greatest motive in all of life… love. The motive is love.
The motive is love. And the verse I love is 2 Corinthians 5 which says, “For the love of Christ compels us, it pushes us forward. Because we judge thus, for if one died then all die. That those who live in Him, live no longer for themselves but for Him who died and rose again.” You know what, we live our life, and we do good works because of love. That is such a greater motivator in life than fear. Here’s the deal, we live this life because we have been loved so much. Let me tell you, Muslims say that Allah is loving and that true love cannot be earned. That is not what love is. If you love your wife or husband because of the things they do for you then you truly don’t love them, you love what they do for you. A true love is best demonstrated when it is given freely. That is why, one of my favorite Scriptures coming from a Muslim background, is Romans 5:8, “For God demonstrates His love in this, while we were yet sinners, before we did anything to earn it, Christ died for us.” That is the kind of love I want to be a part of.
Ben – That’s awesome. You already answered my next question. I was going to say, “Why didn’t the five pillars of Islam do it for you?” I mean you grew up, born and raised in a Muslim home. Obviously, it didn’t do it for you. Let’s go back and talk about what happened after you received Christ into your life. That is probably not a thing you want to share over a family dinner afterwards. Guess what mom and dad? What happened after that? And what has God been doing in your life over the past several years?
Afshin – After I started reading that Bible, I was at football practice, and a guy came up to me and invited me to free pizza and I said man, “That sounds good.” I went for free pizza on September 28, 1989 and I heard the gospel and I received Christ as my Lord and Savior. After I did that, my first thought was, “What in the world did I just do?” My dad is a very prominent man, I don’t know what kind of father you have, but my dad is the best father any man could ever hope for. He loved his wife, my mom in a way that I have always wanted to be a husband like him, he loved us and he devoted himself to us. I was in fear of what would happen if he knew I became a Christian. I hid my faith from my dad for about a year and a half by hiding my Bible, by intercepting mail from the church I was attending before my parents could get to it. And by putting my church clothes in my car on Saturday night and going and changing at Jo Jo’s on Wilcrest before I went to church so my parents wouldn’t see me dressed up. Until finally my dad found out.
And I want to share this so you can see God and His faithfulness. My dad sits me down and says, “Son, what’s going on?” I basically tell him, “Dad I am a Christian.” He said, “No you are not, you are a Muslim, you will always be a Muslim.“ I said, “No Dad, the Bible says if I believe in Jesus and I do then I am a Christian.” He said, “Then if you are going to be a Christian, then you can no longer be my son.” Everything in me wanted to say, “Forget it I’m a Muslim” That is why I was shocked when these words came out of my mouth, “Dad if I have to choose between you and Jesus then I am choosing Jesus. If I have to choose between my earthly father and my Heavenly Father, then I choose my Heavenly Father.” And then my dad said, “You are no longer my son.” He disowned me. I walked upstairs to my room. Fell on my face and started weeping. I couldn’t believe that God would let that happen. I was very young in my faith and I actually became bitter with God and God humbled me. I said, “Jesus how could you do this if you are real? How could you take my dad away?” And I dare you to speak that openly and bluntly with God because He will answer you. He led me to a passage of Scripture in Matthew 10 where I read these words of Jesus that changed my life. Right after this happened, with my dad, I read these words. Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown. Don’t suppose I came to bring peace, but a sword. I came to turn man against his father.” I was like, that just happened. “A daughter against her mother. A man’s enemies will be members of his own household. Whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It was at that point I understood the cost of following Jesus. But I can tell you, as I followed Him my relationship with my dad has gone through a little bit of a roller coaster. Because then he accepted me back in but he wanted me to be a Doctor. And I wanted to be a minister. I wrestled with that until finally I gave my life to God’s will and I followed Him. But, God has been faithful. I wish I could tell you my whole story. But we are not going to do it now but He has provided for me every step of the way. A place to live for free, a ministry out of Dallas paid for my whole education at Seminary and I have been able to travel all over and preach the gospel. He is faithful and He is restoring my relationship with my dad again.
I can tell you this; God is worthy to be trusted for salvation. He definitely is. Because He is the only one who literally did the thing that you and I could never do. He paid the price for us. For us to say – don’t misunderstand this – for us to say to God… see God will not share His glory with anyone and He has provided the only way through Jesus Christ His Son. That is His Sacrifice, and for you and me to say that we can earn it is to share God’s glory. By the way many people who go to church say, not in those words, but say man, I’ll be in Heaven because I’ve been a good person, or I’ve done this or that. But for us to talk about what we’ve done, or for a Muslim to talk about the things he’s done, is to share God’s glory. He will not share it. He will not. And that’s why I love Galatians that says, “If righteousness, a right standing with God, could be attained through the law, then Christ died in vain.” That means you will be literally slapping God in the face and saying, “Your perfect plan- I don’t need it.” And that is scary ground. He is worthy to be trusted because He paid the price.
Secondly, He is worthy to be trusted with your life, every day – here on earth- not just for heaven. He has done it for me in my life.
[Ben leads in an invitation prayer.]