KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Comments by pastor Jerry Vines of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., as to the person and character of the prophet Muhammad have evoked a flurry of activity in the press. In an age of religious inclusivism and pluralism, nothing is guaranteed to awaken a religious press corps more than comments from a Southern Baptist preacher that appear to slander and scandalize the founder of the world’s second-largest religious movement.
Vines’ exact words were “Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, and his last one was a 9-year-old girl.”
The first issue at hand is to answer the question, “Are the comments valid?” Obviously demon possession is a tough diagnosis to make, particularly from 1,400 years of perspective, especially when many of the sources are muddled or unclear. What is known and acknowledged by Muslims themselves is that Muhammad had acute experiences if not of demon possession then at least of demonic oppression.
These experiences occurred at the very beginning of his claim to heavenly visitations from the Angel Gabriel and the supposed recitation to him of the Koran. In fact, he felt that he had been possessed by a “jinn” or evil spirit. Khadija, his wife, persuaded him otherwise:
“I [Muhammad] said to her, ‘Woe is me poet or possessed.’ She said, ‘I take refuge in God from that … God would not treat you thus … This cannot be, my dear … I have hope that thou wilt be the prophet of this people.'”
Periods of great depression for Muhammad followed the exchange as well as repeated visits from a spirit being whom Muhammad eventually claimed was Gabriel. The end result of these visions was the production of much of the book we know today as the Koran. The Koran itself exhibits the spirit of anti-Christ by denying the crucifixion of Jesus, his death for sin and his resurrection from the dead. Amazingly it affirms the virgin birth of Jesus Christ but also proclaims another gospel which advocates works salvation. Obviously the Koran’s gospel is not, for the Christian, any gospel at all.
It is also in the pages of the Koran that we find the commands of its god to take the lives of the opponents of Islam. There the doctrine of Jihad is established and affirmed.
Was this the case of demon-possession? It might well have been so. The end result is the same — a false gospel and a rival revelation which millions of people wrongly believe provides them a highway to heaven.
Again, in the case of pedophilia, let the facts speak for themselves. Muhammad endorsed polygamy in the Koran’s text allowing for up to four wives for each man (Sura 4:3). Muhammad himself exceeded the limit and may have had as many as 15 wives. Most scholars agree that he had at least 12. Additionally, according to the Islamic holy book, a man may divorce his wife but she may not divorce him. Also, a husband, in relation to his wives, may “banish them to beds apart and scourge them” (4:34).
While the argument is often utilized that Muhammad was simply reflecting the morality of his time, should one not expect more from a prophet of God? After all, Jesus condemned the man-inspired traditions of his day and called his followers to moral perfection (Matthew 5:1-20). Jesus claimed he was sinless, which was confirmed by his disciples who lived with him for three years (John 1:14, 2 Corinthians 5:21). In contrast, Muhammad admitted his sinfulness. God in fact commands him in the Koran to seek forgiveness for his sin (40:55; 41:19; 48:2). At the very best, Muhammad conformed and fell victim to much of the godlessness of his day.
It is also a well-established fact that one of his wives (Zainab) was the divorced wife of his adopted son. He also took as a wife the Jewish widow of a slain Hebrew of Medina who was, along with 600 other Jewish males, slaughtered at Muhammad’s command.
Dr. Vines’ statement on the pedophilia issue may have appeared bold, rash, even malicious, or at best out of place, but what are the facts related to the prophet of Islam? Does not the Bible teach that love rejoices in the truth and that we are to speak the truth in love? How can people be set free from the bondage of oppressive religiosity and the beguilement of a false prophet, a false gospel, and a false revelation without knowing the facts? Knowing Dr. Vines as I do, I am convinced that he spoke with a pure motive and a desire to bring light to this matter.
Hopefully, ethical standards have risen enough in the eyes of many so that the above issue of Muhammad’s view of women and his marriage to a 6-year-old will be seen as what they are — sexually abusive. Comparing the New Testament to the Koran makes it clear that there is a chasm of difference in the two. Dr. Vines spoke certainly from a sense of dismay that so many people in recent days have been beguiled into thinking that Christianity and Islam are twin brothers.
Generally in personal evangelism with people of non-Christian faiths it is better to begin with doctrinal issues, including claims and counter-claims between the Christian gospel and non-Christian teachings. The lines of communication then are left open. Relationships are built. Love and patience are engendered. As well, people are not put on the defensive and they may be better stimulated in knowing the one who is Truth.
But Dr. Vines was not preaching in an evangelistic context. It was at the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. His goal was of an apologetic nature — he was demonstrating the real difference that Christian truth makes in the life of anyone who follows its teachings. With the secular press in attendance, his comments were framed as being hateful and the comments were used to arouse emotions and charges of bigotry. In an age of squishy, vacuous pluralism, such raising of the stakes was easy to do.
What is the Christian response to such charges? It is the fair and unfeigned offer of discussion and biblical dialogue. Please let our Muslim friends come forward and give their response in light of history and truth. Christians in turn may present the claims of Christ and the Bible. With the Holy Spirit’s assistance, may those who are outside of Christ come to know the truth and him who is the liberator. This Mount Carmel-type encounter has all the ingredients of being used of God to further the cause of the gospel, if the followers of Christ respond appropriately.
Roberts is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., and former director of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board’s interfaith witness team.