The Quran calls Jews, Christians and Muslims “People of the Book.” It is an appropriate title, and in more ways than Muslims might like.
I mention this because several Muslims recently wrote me concerning a column that’s almost nine months old, Death Threats from Muslims.
Of the group, two Muslims wrote to apologize for the stupidity of the man who is praying for my death from virulent cancer (p.s. So far, Allah isn’t coming through for you on that one. Sorry, Khalid). They both insisted that he showed ignorance of true Islamic teachings and he did not look hard enough for reliable sources. They both went on to chastise me for having believed him. I should not trust Khalid’s interpretations, they said, I should trust theirs.
Really? How do I know that? Who should I trust? Who has the power to authoritatively interpret the Quran? After long discussions with Muslims on the subject, that answer is obvious. No one.
Near the end of his life, Martin Luther observed, "There was a time when there was one Pope on the seven hills of Rome, but now there are seven popes on every dunghill in Germany.” Muslims have the same problem Luther had: when no one is the Pope, everybody is.
It is a tenet of Islam that Mohammed is the last prophet. That creates an enormous problem.
You see, he didn’t authorize anyone to collect his sayings together during his lifetime into the book we now have, the Quran. The Quran is not a book that Mohammed put together nor did he say it had to be put together. So who did it and on what authority did they do it?
Worse, Mohammed didn’t authorize anyone to authoritatively interpret his visions and sayings. And he didn’t authorize a specific successor to his post.
In fact, all he said was that the next leader of Islam should be someone close to him. Our only witness to this is the people close to him. As one might imagine, this created problems.
Mohammed’s death was the direct cause of the first and deepest schism within Islam: the break between Sunnis and Shiites. Sunnis believe one follower, Abu Bakr, was Mohammed’s true successor, Shiites believe a different follower, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was.
Everyone saw the problem. None of the Companions were prophets, they could easily have misunderstood or mis-remembered what the Prophet said or did and no one agreed on who should lead.
Within thirty years, Islam was in a civil war that resulted in a three-way split amongst the followers of the dead Prophet. The splits have only grown in size and vigor since then.
Today, it’s simply not possible to claim that anyone knows what true Islam is. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, anyone who isn’t Wahabbi Islam can be jailed; certain Islamic sects are even put to death for daring to carry their own literature in that kingdom.
Mohammed himself predicted this would happen. One of the Hadiths, the sayings of the Prophet, is quite blunt: “Jews divided into 71 sects, Christians divided into 72 sects, and the Muslim nation will divide into 73 sects of whom all will be in hellfire except for one.”
So the first question to ask any Muslim who tries to tell you of the wonders of Islam is this: “Are you of the true sect of Islam, or one of the 72 out of 73 sects that will be in hellfire? If you are of the true sect of Islam, how do you and I know this?” Then watch them sputter.
Like Protestants, evangelicals and fundamentalists, Muslims have only the Book. They have no definitive way of knowing exactly how the Book should be read. Which passages should get what emphasis in the varying circumstances of life? No one knows. There is no Caliph who can adjudicate any dispute that arises over interpretation. There are only hordes of competing scholars who each put forward a different understanding: seven popes on every dunghill in Germany and the Middle East.
Now, as the Prophet say "differences among scholars is a mercy." Thus, scholars who reject the authority of the Quran are a mercy from Allah.
When I pointed all of this out, the Muslims struck back. “We have no clear line of authority, but we don’t need it. After all, where is your authority to read your Scripture?” I laughed out loud when I saw the question. That was easy.
Christ is the apostle sent from the Father (Heb 3:1). He appointed twelve apostles and gave them all authority in heaven and on earth (John 20:21). He gave them the very authority of God, even unto the authority to forgive sins. They appointed successors through the laying on of hands (Acts 14), and those successors in turn appointed successors through the laying on of hands. Each generation of apostles created through the laying on of hands had “all authority.” (1 Tim 4:14, Titus 2:15). Even Paul was not called an apostle until after the Church laid hands on him (Acts 13:1-3), and none of his speeches were recorded in Acts of the Apostles until after that event. After all, he wasn’t an apostle until the Church had consecrated him as one.
Together, the apostolic successors have the authority to determine how Scripture is to be understood. Apostolic succession continues today, for neither Scripture nor the history of the Church shows it ever having ended. Christianity is unique in having a clearly established line of authoritative succession, each apostle appointing his successors. Today, some Christians would like to pretend that this line does not exist, but it does, as both Scripture and history witness. The head of the apostles resides in Rome, Benedict XVI.
When all Christians recognize this, Islam will be destroyed.