Understanding the Theology

Michael S. Horton
Sam Solomon
Wednesday, May 2nd 2007
Mar/Apr 2007

In October 2006, editor-in-chief Michael Horton had the opportunity to interview Sam Solomon, a former Muslim who spent fifteen years studying Shari'ah law (Islamic jurisprudence) to become an Islamic jurist. Upon his conversion to Christianity, Sam was given forty-eight hours to leave the country. He fled to Europe, where he is a Christian apologist and leading expert on Islam. This interview originally aired on The White Horse Inn radio broadcast, which can be heard every week at

First of all, Sam, what is Islam? We hear in the news that Islam is a religion of peace. There are isolated extremists, but Islam as a religion is a religion of peace.
Well, Islam by definition as far as the Qur'an is concerned – Sura 49 verse 14 says, "They said to Muhammad: We are now believers; we have become believers," and Allah commanded Muhammad to say, "Say to them that faith has not entered your hearts; you have surrendered, you have submitted." So Islam by that definition means "surrender" and "submission." … The definition that people give to us in the media is incompatible with the Qur'anic definition. Islam does not mean peace.

What is Islam about, then?
Islam sees the world in two parts. It sees the people as Muslims or as non-Muslims. And the non-Muslims are a target for Islam in all times because Muhammad came and said, "I have been sent to fight, to kill, people; to slay them until they recite the Islamic creed. And when they have recited the Islamic creed, then they are saved – their property and their lives are guaranteed to them. If not, then they will face the might of the sword." So conversion, for Islam, is not something not presented to people as a decision that they must make but is a law of their being. They simply must convert, even at the point of the sword if necessary. That is how Islam started, and that is how it continues. Take for instance, Mike, Islam started out in Saudi Arabia in the seventh century. How did it arrive to Egypt, Libya, North Africa, Persia, Syria…all the surrounding regions and beyond? Did they send very religious, mild, loving people who went out and say, "Please, accept Islam…these are the doctrines, this is what it is?" No. There were hordes of assassins called mujahadeins. These mujahadeins were no less than all for invasion and the Qur'an gives them the injunction to conquer the un-Islamic world there and to turn it into an Islamic world. That is what Islam is about. It sees the world as an apostate world and it wants to bring the rule of Allah and submit – and people must submit. It isn't a personal faith; personal faith would follow as long as they submit to the hegemony of Islam and its political and theological supremacy.

So is Islam a religion?
Islam by definition is not a religion – in the Western sense of the word. Islam is neither a faith. Islam is a whole encompassing system. Islam is a socio-political, socio-religious, socio-economical, educational, judicial, legislative, materialistic system cloaked in religious terminology. So, in the Western sense, it isn't a religion; it is a whole system. You cannot separate one part of life from another. And Islam, as far as Islam is concerned – Sura 3 verse 19 says, "The religion before Allah is Islam. Allah knows no other religion." And Sura 3 verse 85 says, "Whoever desires," – just desires, "any other religion, any other ideology, will not be received of him here and in the life after. He will be doomed."

One of the things that we hear very often these days is that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity represent the religion of the Book, the Abrahamic faith. We are all children of Abraham. And we even hear, sometimes, Imams (Islamic leaders) tell us that this is how they see things as well. They see Christians and Jews as brothers and sisters in one common Abrahamic faith. Is this consistent with Qur'anic teaching?
No, Mike. I wish that would be true. It isn't. According to Sura 3 verse 67, it says, "Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian. But he bowed his will to Allah and to Islam." Abraham was a Muslim, according to Islam. In fact, Islam believes that every single human being is a Muslim. Every single prophet from Adam to Jesus to Muhammad to all the people in the world, they are Muslims. They have chosen to walk away from Islam. Allah does not create anybody but Muslims. As far as the Jews and Christians are concerned, Islam is very clear about its position: it calls them. Now this is twenty percent of the world looking at eighty percent of the world, whether they are Jews, Christians, Buddhists, or anybody else. Islam says that they are all profane, and that word occurs in Sura 9 verse 28: "The pagans, the unbelievers, are profane."

Sam, many of us have met Muslims in all sorts of environments where it seems that they are moderate. They don't wear the full hijab; it doesn't seem that they are quite as strict. Is there some leniency for Muslims who live in Western countries?
In terms of leniency, Islam has certain divisions. What you can do in a Muslim country and what you are required to do, it may be overlooked when you are abroad because you are in a non-Muslim land. These discrepancies are provided by the Shari'ah. You can do certain things in the West which you may not be allowed to do in the Islamic country. One particular doctrine comes to mind: the doctrine of deception. Muslims are allowed, by the injunction of the Qur'an, to deceive their host, to lie to foreign governments and non-Muslims… that is all done with a good intention for the good name of Islam and to advance the cause of Islam.

Let's turn now to the comparison and contrast with Christianity. Admittedly, this is difficult for the reasons that you've made us aware of, namely that Islam is a culture – a political, militaristic, social, economic movement, whereas Christianity – at least in its Reformation form, is not Christendom, but is faith in Christ. So we talk about the doctrines of Christianity and Islam talks about jihad and taking over the economic structures and so forth. If we do talk about the doctrines, though, what does Islam mean by "God"? Because we're often told, again, the Abrahamic faiths all worship the same God, whether you call him Allah, Yahweh, God… we're talking about the same person. Do either Muslims or biblical Christians teach that we worship the same God and just call him different names?
The problem with Islam and Christianity is this issue of terminology. We use the same terminology. Muhammad borrowed all his terminology from the Scriptures… Our problem is that although the terminology is the same, the definitions and the concepts are radically and dramatically different. You cannot take it at face value. The Allah of Islam is a very, very different person. The God of the Bible, for instance, is a covenant-making God. We believe in covenant theology. He's a covenant-keeping, covenant-sustaining God. In Islam, Allah does not make a covenant. Though the Qur'an is saturated with the word "covenant," that does not mean Allah makes a covenant because he is not answerable to anybody. The Allah of Islam is not a triune God, and if you were to compare and contrast certain behavior patterns of this Allah, you would immediately see that Allah of Islam has commanded his followers to kill, and the Allah of Islam has enemies, and that is all recorded in the Qur'an. His enemies are the Jews and the Christians. This Allah has denied the divine sonship of Christ, his substitutionary, vicarious death on the cross of Calvary, his resurrection… None of it is entertained in Islam. So that whole concept is so different, and I think we would have to take it in morsel bites to understand what Islam means by "Allah" – who he is, and who he is not.

How do Muslims respond to the historic claims of Christianity? First of all, are they likely to encounter a good historical argument for Jesus' claims, particularly his resurrection, and if they are, what is their typical response?
As far as historical Christianity is concerned, Islam just completely – in terms of its constitutional ingredients and components of Islam, the Qur'an and the Sunna – knows nothing about historical Christianity. It twists it around to make it fit its purposes, forces it to say what it does not say. From the historical point of view, the Qur'an cannot answer nor can stand the severe scholastic criticism it was brought under and subjected to. If the Qur'an were subjected to it, it would be torn to pieces. In fact, it is forbidden all over the Islamic world to subject the Qur'an to any form of criticism. It has to be received, as the Muslims would say, "in a worshipful attitude." This is the word of Allah, and it is not subject to discussion. "Why?" is an un-Islamic question. If a child were to say, "Was Muhammad really a prophet?" he would be seriously reprimanded. And so history does not bother a Muslim because the Qur'an is full of inconsistencies. It is inconsistent with itself with the doctrine of abrogation, it is inconsistent with biblical history, it is inconsistent with natural history…it just does not add up. It does not see the span of time, it does not know the people, it is just a hodgepodge of a lot of things. And therefore, poor Muslims who do not understand it, who haven't read it, or if they have read it, they think that it is the facts, the truths.

Is there any sense at all in Islam of a need for a savior? Anything analogous to a sacrifice, an atoning sacrifice, for sin?
No. The atonement in Islam is basically through the Shi'a, the Islamic creed. A lot of people believe and think that Islam is a religion of works. But works can never substitute for reciting of the creed. Because, otherwise, all those people who have done good works will be in paradise. Islam says no one will be in paradise except those who have recited the creed. That is the prerequisite. Works follow that, and it will then create hierarchy. Islam is not a religion of equality. It is a divisive and discriminatory religion because it sees a believer from an apostate, it distinguishes between a Muslim and a Muslim, it distinguishes between a man and a woman, it says a man is a higher, better, more privileged than a woman.
So if I were a Muslim, when I sin, my repentance makes up for my sin.
Your repentance could be the start, but sin – in Islam, there are no Ten Commandments. Nowhere in the Qur'an. The Muslims say it is scattered – it is here, it may be there, but for instance, "Do not kill," there is a legitimacy for killing: jihad. How do you reconcile the doctrine of jihad? How do you reconcile "Do not steal" with the doctrines of booty and spoils of war? "They ask you about the booty of war, say it belongs to Allah and his apostle." There is a whole Sura devoted to that, Sura 8. And of course then the divisions were made and all the directives for booty were given. So, sin varies. It could be at one stage a sin, at another stage it would be allowed.

There is no gospel in Islam, no good news.
No. The good news about it is that Allah said in Sura 21 verse 107, "We did not send you," that means Muhammad, "except as the mercies to all the creatures. He is the embodiment of the mercies of Allah to all the creatures."

Sam, in Islam, how does a person make it to heaven and avoid hell?
Well, first of all, Mike, heaven and hell are Christian concepts in Christian/Judeo-Christian understandings. That's just biblical vocabulary. It does not carry. Islamic understanding…To them, heaven is a very foreign concept. It is a paradise, not "heaven," where they will have pleasure. In paradise, according to the Qur'an, there are rivers of alcohol, rivers of wine, rivers of milk –
– making up for not having it on earth?
Yes, because on earth you need to be sober. You need to pray five times a day. But according to Sura 47 verse 15, there will be rivers of alcohol, rivers of pure water, rivers of milk, rivers of honey, and they will be flowing. Every kind of meat a man can desire, freshly cooked, everything – fruit of every kind, and of course they will have virgins – absolutely beautiful virgins, and they will always remain virgins; they will always remain pure; and they are there to appease the faithful ones. And these are called Houri, and they are specially created for the faithful ones. Added to that, the Qur'an says perpetually fresh, young boys – not exceeding the age of about fourteen at maximum – are there for the enjoyment of the faithful ones. Allah apparently understands an alternative lifestyle. So that is as far as how to "make it," of course this is all Qur'anic.

Even if you repent – because it isn't covenant theology, because Allah doesn't make any covenant, he's not going to change you. In fact, it is a Qur'anic verse, Sura 11 verse 13, "Allah does not change, will not change the condition of a people until they change it themselves with their own souls." It is a self-effort. It has nothing to do with Allah; Allah doesn't change a man. He will not touch anybody. Allah hates unbelievers; he's not the God of the Christian faith who will seek the lost.

Sam, can a form of Christianity that has so watered down the message, the main themes of Christianity – sin, guilt, atonement…can that kind of Christianity really answer the onslaught of Islam?
Islam comes very strongly, and therefore if this is the modern view of Christianity, rejecting the centrality of the biblical truths, the sin of man, original sin, guilt, and atonement, so if people say, "I just repented…Jesus loves me," these are facts. Yes, you repented. True indeed, Jesus loves you. But if that is the limit, then when troubles come we will fly out of the window even before we have melted away. Why? Because we are not grounded and rooted in the Word of God. If God has accepted me, not because I am a nice man, not simply because I have repented, but he has accepted my repentance based on his covenant. If we do not understand covenant theology, if we are not rooted there, that God accepted me not because I have done something good or because I have given to the poor but because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it is in his blood, it is because he stood for me, and he took the wrath of God. If we think that God is all love and there is nothing in him which hates sin, that means anything will go. If we ignore the part of wrath, then we are going to lose out. Why? Because we fail to see God's wrath toward sin when Jesus took it. It cost him. It cost him. Islam comes and undermines all these things and says, "Just repent. Just say the Shi'a, the creed, and you're accepted, you're saved because you are a Muslim." Today, Europe is almost down under. Islam rules supreme. Mosques are springing up everywhere in the United States. People are ripe. It isn't just the Muslim population here; it is the Americans, and every state in the United States has a mosque, an Islamic center. It is making a huge advance because there isn't any difference anymore between what Islam holds and what watered-down Christianity has to offer.

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Michael S. Horton
Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.
Wednesday, May 2nd 2007

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