The Meaning of Life: Who Does Islam Say We Are? — Part I

We are investigating the meaning of life. Today we look at how Islam answers the question: Who are we? Before we can do that, we must first look at the history of how Muhammad brought Islam into being.Islam

We note that the two holy books of Islam are the Qur’an, containing what Muhammad said he received from Allah; and the Hadith, containing his followers’ sayings.

Muhammad received the Qur’an from a spiritual being in a cave north of Mecca. But when this “angel of light” gave him revelations, Muhammad would shake, perspire, and foam at the mouth from seizures. He feared he was being tormented by an evil spirit. From Hadith Sahih al-bukhari, Vol 9. No. 111: “Then Allah’s Apostle returned with the Inspiration, his neck muscles twitching with terror till he entered upon Khadija and said, ‘Cover me! Cover me!’ They covered him till his fear was over and then he said, ‘O Khadija, what is wrong with me?’ ”

Muhammad’s uncle Waraqah Ibn Nawfal belonged to an heretical Christian sect. He convinced Muhammad that the being who gave him these visions was the angel Gabriel. From the same passage as above: “But after a few days Waraqh died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while and the Prophet became so sad as we have heard that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains and every time he went up to the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say, ‘O Mohammed! You are indeed Allah’s Apostle in truth’ whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and would return home.” Translation: Muhammad was so distressed by these visits from an angel that he tried, multiple times, to commit suicide. Thus did Muhammad receive the “holy” Qur’an. (One might now ponder 2 Corinthians 11:14: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”)

After teaching from the Qur’an in Mecca for twelve years, he had a grand total of 150 followers, mostly relatives and slaves. Then he moved to Medina where he received new visions—he was to rob and steal from passing caravans.

This brings us to an important point of Islamic teaching: The doctrine of abrogation. This says that later verses supersede earlier verses. Thus the Medina verses supersede Meccan verses. The Meccan verses are called the “weak verses” and preach peace and mercy. The Medina verses are the “strong verse” and they preach war, revenge, and killing. This doctrine is important in Islamic thought because it says that where they conflict, the Qur’an supersedes the Bible. (But it also implies that Allah can change his mind. If he can supersede and change what he has already given the world, then he is either an untrustworthy god or a liar. But if this god can change his mind, then what is right today can become wrong tomorrow and there is no longer any basis for morality.)

With new revelations in hand, Muhammad began to spread Islam by force. His visions told him to kill and drive out the Jews. In AD 627 he beheaded 700 captive Jewish men. The women and children he divided among his warriors, taking 1/5 of them for himself. He proceeded to raise an army, return to Mecca, and conquer it. There he ordered ten personal enemies murdered. In total he fought 66 battles, killing at least 3,000. They called it “the religion of the sword.”

Such is the history of Muhammad. (For more see Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults and William Federer’s What Every American Needs to Know About the Qur’an.) Next time we’ll look at some verses from the Qur’an that tell us who Islam says we should be.

The Meaning of Life: Who Does Buddhism and Hinduism Say We Are?

As we follow the trail to the meaning of life, let us stop on the way and look at a few other religions. What are their answers to the question: Who are we? We’ll start with Buddhism and Hinduism.

In the worldview of pantheistic monism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age give similar answers to the question. Under their philosophy we are all “one” with the universe. “All is One” is their motto. In their view everything in the cosmos is intertwined; there are no independent parts. In fact the universe itself is god. And because we are all one with the universe, then we ourselves are gods.

And because we are all one, the physical world is nothing but illusion. Some things are more “real” than others. Matter and vegetable life are low on the totem pole of reality. Humanity is highest. But some people are higher than others, because they’re closer to “enlightenment”. Pain and suffering are also considered an illusion.

But along with this belief comes the law of karma—reincarnation. reincarnation-3According to them, we are on an endless cycle of birth and rebirth. In the next life we will come back in a higher or lower state based on how well we lived or how close to “enlightenment” we came in this life.

What is the goal of Hinduism? It’s to liberate oneself from a physical, personal existence through meditation techniques. Yes, that’s right. To meditate through one means or another with the goal of becoming one with the “Impersonal All”. So the object is to lose one’s personal identity and cease to exist as a person and become absorbed in the “True Reality”, where, it is promised, awaits peace, fulfillment, and bliss.

Under this system, what is the One? It’s an impersonal force. It is the sum of everything in the universe, including the souls of all human beings. So human beings are, in essence, impersonal. Yet the goal is to merge with the One. In Buddhism, the goal is personal annihilation. At the end of the cycle of reincarnation, when the Buddhist reaches the highest level of enlightenment, he merges with the One, “like a drop of water merging into the ocean.” He simply goes poof! and ceases to exist.

Another thing to know is that all knowledge and truth are an illusion. Knowledge and truth require a duality. As do good and evil. But since All is One, there cannot be a knower and a thing to be known, a truth and a falsehood, a good thing and an evil thing. Hence, all knowledge and truth are illusions. As are lies. As are good and evil. (Of course, this must also apply to the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism themselves. Their “knowledge” and “truths” then become nothing but illusion and their teaching becomes self-contradictory. One then might ask, “Why should I follow your teachings and your ‘truths’ if they, too, are nothing but illusion?”)

We could go on, but that gives us a snapshot of the Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age philosophy. So how would they answer the question: Who are we? I will attempt to summarize:

  1. Because we are all part of the Impersonal One, our personalities, who we are, is unimportant. As individuals, we simply don’t matter. Our lives have no value and are essentially meaningless. Practitioners would now say that to the One we have infinite value, yet that still denies the uniqueness and worth of individuals.
  2. The love and hate, truth and lies, good and evil that we personally experience is not real. It’s only an illusion. (Shoot yourself in the leg with a .44 magnum and then make that declaration!) So the experiences of our lives are essentially illusions and nothing around us is really real. We are living in a world of self-delusion and lies. (Of course, since there is no such duality as real versus unreal, truth versus lies, we’re a bit stumped here.)
  3. We are hapless beings hopelessly caught in an endless cycle of rebirth. We may never get off. Our goal is personal enlightenment, and this may well mean ignoring everyone around us to get there. Since morality then becomes an illusion, how we treat others is unimportant. Been a bad girl or boy? Haven’t advanced toward enlightenment? Well then, prepare to come back next time as a toad or an ant. (How does a toad advance from there?)

So that’s how these three worldviews might answer the question: Who are we? Next time we’ll look at how Islam might answer the question.

The Meaning of Life: Who Are We? — We Are Children of God

In our investigation of the meaning of life we asked: Who are we? We’ve delved into a number of responses. But one answer we haven’t investigated is this: Those of us who believe in Jesus as God’s Son become members of God’s household.

As we discussed previously, God is a God of love. In fact He exists not only as one being, but also as a community of three: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Before the universe was created, God was all there was. The Trinity existed in perfect harmony and love. So right from the start we see a hierarchy of family order and an emphasis on family and mutual love.

But it doesn’t stop there. In Romans 8:14 (NLT), Paul says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” family_at_the_crossSo God thinks of us as his children. And everywhere in the Bible we hear the words “God the Father.” (As an aside, those who would change this to gender-neutral language do great violence to the text and to the message of familial love and harmony.)

What about Jesus? Paul calls Jesus our elder brother (Romans 8:29). And because we are all brothers and sisters of Jesus, all believers are brothers and sisters to all other believers. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2 (NLT), Paul gives instructions for relationships within the church: “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. 2 Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters.”

When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he emphasized that a church needs true doctrine and rules, just as a household needs rules by which to function. In 1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NLT), he says: “14 I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, 15 so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

The familial language is astounding. Think about it, the Creator whose universe spans 93 billion light-years across, wants us for his family! For God’s household. If this isn’t a God of love, then what is?

So who are we? When we become believers in Christ, we become part of God’s holy family, children of God, brother to Jesus. And that is good news, indeed.

Next time, we’ll look at how Buddhism and Hinduism answer the question: Who are we?