Middle East Resources

Islam Not a Stepping-Stone Towards Christianity

by
Rt. Rev. W. G. Peel
Bishop of Mombasa

The Moslem World Journal, Vol. 1 – October 1911

THE adoption of the faith of Islam by the pagan people is in no sense whatever a stepping-stone towards, or a preparation for, Christianity, but exactly the reverse. How true this is can, perhaps, be most vividly realised by those Christians who are spending the best years of their lives in vigorously evangelising animistic tribes and pagan communities in Africa, and are abounding in hope that Christianity will become widespread and dominant. Islam has much to offer to the pagan whose superstitions and heathenism have made him a slave to darkness, and a ready captive to lust. But Islam, remarkable religion though it is, is not a religion of God, and has nothing connected with it that can superadd divine life to the pagan’s life, nor strengthen the inner man of the animistic tribesman with the strength of the might of the “last Adam,” the new Head of the human race in place of the first Adam who involved his progeny and posterity in the humiliation and defilement of sin.

The faith of Islam is a mountain height in comparison with the barbaric beliefs of the pagan. Were there no Christian revelation and religion at all in this world of ours, one would fain climb to the loftiest vantage ground which Islam offers, in order to escape from the low levels of polytheism, and to be able to enjoy a wide outlook upon human life in the purified atmosphere of monotheistic conceptions, with all the subjective influences and restrictions, and all the soul and spirit developments inevitably issuing therefrom. Very real is the uplift which Islam gives to those who abandon heathenism for it. Those who are privileged to use their Christian lives and opportunities in keeping at the side of the pagan that they may benefit him are never slow to acknowledge this, for to them, if to anyone, is patent any advantage which accrues to the heathen African who embraces the faith of Islam and becomes a good and faithful Mohammedan. The pagan tribesman gains immensely by his adoption of the beliefs, the customs, the higher standard of morals, and the simple but impressive religious ceremonial of the followers of Mohammed. He is drawn into the wonderful fellowship of the many, many millions who so magnetically adhere shoulder to shoulder, in the face of the religions of the world and of the Christian religion of Christ, and he imbibes an undying enthusiasm for a man and a cause which excites the admiration of all beholders. He is given his place among the reverent worshippers in the mosque, and receives instructions regarding “the five foundations” of practical religion. He pledges himself to the Kalimah La ilaha illa ‘ilaho, Muhammadnr Rasulu ‘llah. (“There is no deity but God: Mohammed is the Apostle of God”): believes it “by the heart,” and professes it until death, and without hesitation. His prayer-life is remarkable, and, if he grasp the Arabic setting, leads him to ideas of God which never found even an echo in his former heathen surroundings. It is remarkable because of its mechanical devotion and service at least five times a day, because of its sustained energy in repetitions in Arabic, because of the compulsory cleansing of the body and of the clothes of a worshipper before he prays in a place which must be free from all impurity, and because of the glorious ascriptions of greatness and glory to God, and most humble acknowledgments of His mercy and compassion. Rigorous fasts—e.g., Ramadan for a whole month, accompanied with much quiet worship in the mosques, reading of the Koran, and Lent-like abstinence from worldly gaieties claim the devotion of the sometime pagan, now a devout Moslem.

The “legal almsgiving “ of money, of cattle, of grain, of fruit, and of merchandise, annually, is, or should be, a prominent feature in the life, in the home, office, or shop a practice which has the double blessing of cultivating charity in the heart, and of making famous the Mohammedan’s care of the poor. Linked with all these, there is the cherished hope of his one day becoming a Haji—a Mussulman who shall have accomplished the great pilgrimage to Mecca, and shall therefore be entitled ever afterwards to all the respect due to those who accomplish the Rajj, as well as to all the merits of the pilgrimage in respect of the blotting out of sin.

Truly, the step from the crudities of animism and a debasing fetishism into the social amenities of Mohammedan life, to which are to be added the elevating culture, intellectual and religious, of the Moslems, is so great and satisfying to the pagan African, that he imagines he has reached the goal of civilisation where he may rest, expand, and enjoy the newness of all he is experiencing.

But he is an unchanged man inwardly. The religion of which he is now a devotee is not a religion of God, though he will always term it Din Allah, the religion of God. It has indeed brought to bear upon him its peculiar fascinations, and an imperative summons to accept Islam—i.e., to submit to the divine will, and to do homage to God. It has dictated to him the supreme truth that “there is no deity but God,” Whose ineffable nature, creative and sustaining power, and infinite knowledge pass human understanding. it has wreathed about him unending chains of prayer which closely link him with the mosque and the sacred Kaaba. But it has not conferred on him spiritual piety. It has begotten in him no repentance, the [Greek word] which marks the change of mind and of the whole life, of the child of the first Adam, heart-broken because of a realised sinful nature and life, and eager to be renewed by the life of the last Adam, Jesus Christ. It has not given him the breath of prayer but only the exercise of praying with words admitting of no change, nor variation, and in a tongue of which, perhaps, he hardly understands a word. Carnal affections have not died in him. There has been no spiritual experience of the burying of the old man that the new man may be raised up in him. There is no vestige of power working in him from without, as from mosque attendances, or from patient hearing of the Koran, or from firm utterance of the Kalimah, or from the prophet Mohammed himself, enabling the man to have strength, to have victory, and to triumph against the devil, the world, and the flesh. The lower passions of his frail nature are nursed by the religious recognition of a lavish and systematic provision for voluptuous enjoyment to which he was a bond-slave in the old animistic and pagan days. He is undergoing no process of renewal in the inner man which is to issue in the “holiness of truth.” Islam has, in a word, failed him in all the essentials of a spiritual religion which can claim divine origin, and has left him as spiritually dead as it found him. Conceived and born in sin he had the right to claim of true religion a fulness of grace, objective and subjective, which would result in new birth, in remission of sins, in continual deliverance from the power of sin and the weakness of human nature, in daily renewal by the effectual working of God in the heart, in all present possible blessings of endowment with everlasting life, in a restoration to the image and likeness of God, and in conscious abiding safety from the insidious designs and fell workings of Satan.

The contention that Islam has utterly failed the animist and pagan in all the essentials of a spiritual religion which can claim divine origin may seem to some too bold, or too sweeping, and, consequently, may arouse in them an impatient inclination to disregard it, or, at any rate, to seriously discount it. But it will be well and wise to bear with it, and to examine its worth very carefully, and to ponder also in connection with it the significance of the very striking characteristic of Islam which is the real burden of this thesis—viz., that the adoption of the faith of Islam by the pagan people is in no sense a stepping-stone towards, or preparation for, Christianity, but exactly the reverse. A Moslem claims that Mohammedanism stands in the same position with regard to Christianity as Christianity holds in reference to Judaism. In his view the Koran has practically annulled all the Holy Books which have preceded it. It is indeed a grave position for any essayist to hold that not only does the widespread religion of Islam minister no spiritually-quickening grace to the follower of Mohammed, but also rises, barrier-like, between him and the approaches to Christ’s religion, while at the same time rendering the man averse to the positive teachings of Christ as supreme, and causing him to feel out of sympathy with the demands of the Cross of Calvary on every human life in the momentous, supreme, and mysterious soul-experiences of by faith dying with, being buried with, and raised from the dead with Jesus of Nazareth, the Prophet of Galilee, and the King of the Jews. Again and again, personal contact with the proselytes who have gone over from the African tribal worship to the religion of Mohammed has convinced us of the fact that Islam is Islam, a religion by itself, fanatical and bitter in opposition to all other faiths, and affording no kind of preparation for the reception of the teachings of the Prophet of Galilee, but rather drawing mind and heart away from the desire of any contact with the faith of Christ as the Prophet and the Saviour. (This is not a surprising conclusion after all, for Surat-ul-Imran, 78—79, runs thus: “We believe in God and in what hath been sent down . . . to Abraham . . Whoso desireth any other religion than Islam, that religion shall never be accepted of him, and in the next world he shall be lost.”) So strongly has this been understood and admitted in some of the areas where the Christian evangelist has been at work that, for a time at least, all Christian missionary effort has come to a standstill, not because of lack of courage and a persevering spirit, but in order to utilise the services of the staff where the peculiar latent and open opposition and destructive influence of Islam were not yet in being.

To return to the failure of Islam to meet the spiritual needs of human nature, as now conditioned, in the crucial soul-questions of repentance (the [Greek word]) and regeneration, as instanced in the pagan convert with his unchanged inner man. Why does Islam fail here, a religion so world-wide, boasting nearly two hundred millions of adherents, and possessing within its ranks so many noble-minded, honourable, and -very learned apologists ? Because it lacks:

1. The Christian teaching, and the fact of spiritual experience, that the resurrection of Christ is not only a pledge that our bodies will be hereafter raised, but involves (by reason of a believer’s living union with Him, by faith) the spiritual resurrection in this life present in the case of each true believer.

2. The Christian teaching, and the fact of spiritual experience, that this spiritual resurrection is a partaking of the eternal life which God has given to Christ, and to all who become members of Him. In Christ, this eternal life is fully secured to all who accept Him as Saviour.

3. The Christian teaching, and the fact of spiritual experience, that God dwells in all who accept and follow Christ, and separates them unto Himself to be temples in which His Holy Presence may ever have a home.

4. The Christian teaching, and the fact of spiritual experience, that the Holy Spirit of God maintains an abundant supply of Christ’s eternal life in the believer, and enables him to make use of Christ every moment in crucifying self, in the control of the passions, in resisting the world, flesh, and devil, in walking in penitence and in the fear of God, in loving God with all the heart and spirit, in seeking to fully know God and His Will in all things, and in living for God in the daily life in order to bring all honour and glory unto Him.

5. The Christian teaching, and the fact of spiritual experience, that where two or three Christian believers are gathered together to praise and worship God, Christ is always in the midst of them as their Saviour, their High Priest, their King, and their Life.

In the religion of Christ the believer finds a death unto sin and a life unto righteousness. In his soul- experiences this becomes a spiritual fact through Christ his Life Who abides in him. Thus carnal affections die in him, and the new man grows in him, evidently, before the eyes of his fellow-believers. He lives in his home, or in his office, as before, and yet he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him. His true life is not his natural life, but the life of faith in union with Christ. life entirely under the influence of Christ his Head.

Hence the proselyte from an animistic tribe or pagan community who has gone over to the ranks of the followers of Christ not only benefits by the grand Christian civilisation of which he has become a thankful partaker, a condition of human life equal to anything which can be met with in the element of Islam, but also he becomes subject to an infinite power from without, which comes direct from the Prophet-Saviour of Galilee, affecting his spirit, soul and body. All the sources of passion in his physical and spiritual being, all the roots of sinful nature, all the hurtful habits which have stumbled him in the past, all the seat of wrong desire, of malice, of jealousy, of ill-temper, and of selfish ambitions, come into contact with the Life of a Person other than himself, even of the Christ of God, given by God to save a man from his sins and to protect him in a walk before men and God in newness of eternal life. Conflicts with Satan and the overpowering temptations of the flesh and of the world are not undertaken by him single-handed, but in fellowship with the indwelling Friend, the Christ of God. The religion of Christ never fails him in the essentials of a spiritual religion which can claim divine origin, for by it he, if faithful, obtains deliverance from the things which hurt and assault the soul and spirit, and are dishonouring to the God he worships.

As a regenerate man, opposed to all evil, he claims of his religion a plenitude of effectual grace for daily “renewal,” and receives it; for his religion is not a system, but a living, ever-present Person, the Risen Christ of God, Who cares for him, knows his needs, watches his battles, and never forsakes him. Little by little he grows up into manhood in Christ, and becomes a staunch soldier of the Cross, a helpful witness of the Saviour, Whom he knows, and a loving guide to his fellows in the way of peace and holiness.

Islam has been weighed in the balances and proved to be wanting in all that makes for spiritual regeneration, spiritual renewal, and spiritual development in the followers of the Prophet of Arabia and in the animistic tribes and pagan communities of Africa; though none wilt speak slightingly of all the great benefits which it confers upon those who seek its fellowship as a refuge from their heathenism. When weighed in the balances touching idolatry, Islam, one would at first say, turns the scale against the baneful religious practice of the worship offered before idols. But, on reflection, the heartiest well-wishers of Mohammedans must acknowledge that the ceremonies observed on the occasion of the pilgrimage to Mecca savour strongly of the old idolatrous superstitions of Arabia. The kissing of the black stone, the seven circuits, three times at a run, and four times at a slow walk, of the Kaaba, which contains the black stone (Hajr-ul-aswad), the running from the top of Mount Safa to the top of Mount Marwah seven times, the picking up of seven small stones and saying a prayer over each stone, and blowing upon it before throwing it at one of the three pillars known as Jamrah, the sacrifice at Mina of Id-ul-Azha, the shaving of head and the paring of nails before putting off the pilgrim garb, are of divine institution, and accordingly are ordered to he observed (Koran, Surah xxii. 28). The heathen Arabia of the time of Mohammed surely figures in all this! To prescribe this ritual, at Mecca of all places, to the proselyte from pagan villages in Africa at the crisis of his religious life when about to be esteemed as a Haji, is to replace the fetters of superstition which Mohammed professed to remove for ever when he first uttered the Kalimah: “There is no deity but God, and Mohammed is the Apostle of God.”

It behooves each Christian man and woman in this twentieth century to do something definite “to stem the tide of Moslem advance,” for the adoption of the faith of Islam by the pagan people is in no sense whatever a stepping-stone towards, or a preparation for, Christianity, but exactly the reverse. “Notwithstanding its fair show of outward observance and its severe legal enactment , there is something in Islam which strikes at the very root of morals, poisons domestic life, and disorganises society, freedom of judgment is crushed, and a barrier has been raised not merely against the advance of Christianity, but against the progress of civilisation itself.”

Rt. Rev. W. G. Peel, Bishop of Mombasa