Me: Yes, who is it?
He: I have been sent to speak with you. I am Mohammed, the Prophet. Peace be upon you.
Me: Upon you peace! But surely there’s some mistake – I’m not a Muslim…
He: No mistake. I have been sent because you keep denigrating those whom you call fundamentalists, in which you seem to include my followers if not myself.
Me: Well, of course my real quarrel is with fundamentalist Christians….
He: You seem to use the word as a useful term of abuse which you don’t need to define.
Me: I’m sorry if I’ve offended you or your followers, but I understood that you regarded every single word of the noble Qur’an as the word of Allah, which is identical with the way Christian fundamentalists regard the Bible.
He: A scholar like yourself should be more precise. “Fundamentalism” is an invention of 19th century Americans, and includes doctrines such as the so-called Substitutionary Atonement. Most fundamentalists have read only a tiny proportion of the Bible and have in fact very little reverence for it other than the passages which support their peculiar doctrines. Faithful Muslims on the other hand have not only read the whole Qur’an but have memorised many of its passages. No Muslim will gain the reputation of a scholar without studying Qur’an and much more in its original language, whereas many Christian fundamentalists think the Bible was written in Elizabethan English.
Me: You’re right of course. Please accept my apologies for being so careless. From now on I will distinguish between fundamentalists and those who believe their scriptures are the very word of GOD.
He: But you think that such a belief is a bad thing?
Me: I have said that it seems to me to create an idol alongside the one God, namely a divine book.
He: Christians are on pretty shaky ground when they talk about idols alongside the one Allah- what about the Son of God and the Holy Spirit, aren’t these idols?
Me: Our theologians have explained that God is One and Three…
He: Clever words which have never convinced me. But let’s leave that old quarrel. In our faith the Qur’an is noble because it is from Allah and commands human belief and action, but it is not divine. Allah is great and One! And who would dare to distinguish between one teaching or command and another? If Allah reveals himself in words, that is, in the words he gave to me, how can one word be more important than another?
Me: You want me to see you as a passive channel for God’s word, which I refuse to do. The very fact that God is said to speak in your language means that your culture and experience of language are part of the revelation, as is your own faith.
He: If Allah wants to talk to an Arab why would he not speak in Arabic?
Me: I’ve always wanted to ask you if you received the whole Qur’an in your visions, or if maybe some of it existed before you?
He: A Muslim might be in danger of his life for asking that question!
Me: But you’re not answering it. Neither will your followers permit a genuine historical investigation of the origins of your faith, whereas Christians have opened up their traditions to close examination by scholars of history. We know that our Gospels for example, do not always give us the precise words of Jesus, but we also have a good idea of who wrote them and when.
He: But when you interpret the scriptures you use the text of your bible and nothing else. However the text was formed, it’s what you’ve got. And even you, with all your reservations, use the bible day by day in your blog. Doubtless there are many interpretations, but they all arise from the one text. So maybe you are just as dependent on an authoritative writing as I am. Only I admit my dependence on Allah’s word, whereas you advertise your right to reject or accept your scriptures as binding.
Me: Yes, there’s grandeur to your unquestioning obedience, but I don’t want it. For I know that I’ve chosen my scripture, because I think it points to God and my salvation. Of course that means I engage with all of it, I cannot simply ignore what it says, I must let God speak to me through it, but if it tells me something I regard as untrue, or tells me to do what I think is wrong, I cannot excuse myself from rebellion against it, because I chose it in the first place.
He: So let me check this out: you hold your scripture in honour as containing the revelation of God, but you reserve the right to stand as judge upon it?
Me: I think that’s what Jesus did.
He: I hear you. But is it any surprise that Islam in your country has many young followers, while you have few? People looking for a guide to living will be attracted to a faith that offers certainty rather than one that admits doubts. And the noble Qur’an is strong and beautiful in the midst of so much ugliness in your society.
Me: I love my Bible but not as I love God or Jesus or the Spirit or my neighbour. If God is love then God trusts me to be more than obedient, however hard that may be.
He: What can be more than obedience to Allah?
Me: Peace be upon you!
He: Upon you, peace!