When a Muslim Studies Galatians What Does He See?

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In the January 2019 issue of Muslim-Christian Relations, Gordon Nickel, a Christian scholar of Islamics reviews Akhtar’s book.

What Nickel finds is that Akhtar makes no attempt to hide his expressions of what he sees as the superiority of Islam and the folly of Christianity. Nickel discovers is that Akhtar is a devout Muslim reading the book of Galations through his own Islamic worldview, and this book provides a window into that worldview; notwithstanding that Akhtar is part of a Centre whose stated purpose is to “bring Muslims and Christians together for inter-religious dialogue through study, public education and training in religious literacy.” [https://www.cmcsoxford.org.uk/]

The following quotes (with page numbers) are from Akhtar’s book as cited by Nickel:

  • The book declares that ‘we know reliably little or nothing’ about Jesus, while ‘Muhammad was a man who lived in the full light of history’ (18, 24, cf. 6).
  • Theology, as the study of God’s nature as opposed to his will, is anathema’ (40).
  • [I]t cannot be right to love ideological enemies’ (45).
  • Sin, sacrifice and atonement are ‘of marginal significance in Islam’ (64).
  • Devout Muslims would never offer the salām to non-Muslims’
    (69).
  • Islam dismisses the believer’s faith in Christ as divine Saviour as ‘blasphemous mythology’ (89).
  • ‘Muslims… see the faith of all God’s messengers, including Muhammad, as being a faith of perfect obedience’ (89).
  • Islam proclaims Christ’s death irrelevant (92).
  • The Qur’an would see the promise to Abraham fulfilled not in Christ [Galatians 3.:16, 4.4–5, cf. Romans 10.4] but rather in Muhammad (133).
  • 'Joy and love are not prominent in the Quran’ (202).
  • Quranic Islam rejects agapē as false and mawkish love, as irresponsible and vague’ (210).
  • The God of the Quran makes provision for the lusts of the flesh’ (252).
  • ‘Christians and Muslims are fighting a decisive battle for the true image of humanity’, writes the author (253). ‘The deadlock … is permanent’ (269).
  • In the end, the book judges Paul to be ‘a sincere preacher who got many things wrong,’ a self-deceived ‘lost prophet who missed the mark’ (269).

Some observations:

This book, as Nickel points out, shows that Akhtar is thinking and writing exactly as his Islamic worldview would have him do. Although his book promises to build bridges, one must wonder if its real intent is to construct a bridge, not in order for Akhtar to come closer to Christianity, but rather to move Christians towards Islam by suggesting that their belief in their precious Savior is “blasphemous mythology” and that He is “irrelevant.”

As Nickel points out, at the same time Akhtar is allowed to pronounce that any ‘radical criticism of the Prophet’ is ‘forever anathema’ (24, cf. 210, 246). Nickel correctly observes that there is something lop-sided about this kind of dialogue.

Questions:

1. Akhtar is a member of a Centre for Muslim-Christian dialogue. What does his book tell us about his real views on such dialogue?

2. Akhtar’s statements could be dismissed as being from a radical fringe of Islam, but they are central to Sunni thinking. How did you respond to his own words that convey what he really thinks about Christianity?

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Akhtar gets one thing correct:

"Christians and Muslims are fighting a decisive battle for the true image of humanity."