Robert Hunt’s article was the second of three that would eventually end up being discussed in this online thread; interested parties can access it at this link.
After I read it, I wrote the following response:
> A full understanding of God’s nature comes only with the revelation of God in Christ.
True. No objections.
> But this isn’t a difference in gods. It is a difference in understanding of the one true God. Nor is the difference between these monotheistic religions a failure to acknowledge God’s own self-witness. From a Christian standpoint it is simply a failure to acknowledge God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, while acknowledging others.
The only way you could say that was if you thought the Qur’an was simply written by a man who had some revelation of God but didn’t understand the Gospel, so he rejected the truth about Christ. And of course, people are free to think that. But the origins of the Qur’an are well documented by Muslim historians and the Sahih al-Bukhari, and they agree that Muhammad received the text by angelic revelation. A religion which claims such a source, in my opinion, needs to have its story examined, and if you look at the details of that story, they’re simply disquieting.
Muhammad’s beloved wife, Aisha bint Abu Bakr, recounts that the angel first appeared to Muhammad at the cave of Hira and issued an order, “Recite.” At a loss, Muhammad said that he couldn’t. The angel took hold of him, squeezed him vehemently, and repeated the order. Again, Muhammad said he couldn’t. Then the angel squeezed him until he was exhausted, demanding that he recite. Muhammad again said that he couldn’t. The angel squeezed him a third time, before finally letting him go and telling him what to say. Muhammad repeated the verses of the first Qur’anic revelation, trembling in fear.
When the encounter was over, he went home in terror, asking his wife to cover him and telling her he was afraid something bad would happen to him. He also said, “I have never abhorred anyone more than a poet or a mad man. I cannot stand looking at either of them. … I will climb a mountain and throw myself down and die. That will relieve me.”
Persian historian At-Tabari says that the pre-Islamic Arabs believed that great poetry was inspired by demons. Muhammad was sure he was demonised and wanted to kill himself, but said that the voice of the angel returned and stopped him when he tried. Eventually, he got used to the idea that he was a chosen prophet, and after a year, he was a different man.
In my opinion, we have two choices in how we can respond to this account. We can dismiss it as just a story, or we can take it seriously. Personally, I take it seriously because I’ve had close contact with the demonic in my life, and I believe that just as the Holy Spirit leaves fingerprints, so does the enemy.
So the problem is, everything in Aisha’s story goes against the scriptural pattern of how humans encounter God and His angels. In the Bible, God created people to have free will, so He and His messengers always interacted with them in a way that preserved the integrity of that free will. They never overrode anyone’s free will, never physically forced their presence onto the prophets, and they never commanded anyone to say anything that he/she was not actually capable of saying. And even though the people they visited were sometimes awed or afraid, said individuals never got so terrified and confused that they claimed to be demon-possessed. They didn’t think they were going insane, and they didn’t become suicidal.
Of course, if none of this is true, there’s no problem. Mr. Hunt’s line of thinking can be easily upheld. But if Muhammad really was visited by an angel, my question is: whose angel was it? Was it really God’s self-witness? If it was, why did that angel deliberately tell Muhammad things which deny the truth of the Gospel, thereby giving millions of Muslims today “incomplete understanding”?
And here’s my personal (as opposed to theological) reason for taking this story seriously: Muhammad’s experience is broadly similar to how mediums are created in Taoism. My family was intimately acquainted with a sifu who trained mediums, so I got to learn about the process. It was a forced union between the channeller and whatever deity he/she was supposed to channel, where the person’s will and control over himself/herself was broken through repeated “squeezings” so that the spirit could properly inhabit the body.
I know a woman who found the process so difficult that she was constantly stressed and cried every time she tried, but the man just made her keep going until it finally worked. The last time I saw her, she was channelling the Thousand-hand Bodhisattva. And I would’ve gone through the same thing, if my mother had agreed to let the sifu train me (she didn’t allow it because she wanted me to have a normal life). So yeah… I see fingerprints.
If all this sounds simply outlandish, I understand that. But the choice remains: we either dismiss what millions of Muslims believe about the origin of their holy book and think that Muhammad was, at best, a misguided human being who wrote a faulty knock-off of the Bible, or we consider the possibility that he had some help in his composition, and we consider what Ephesians 6:12 says, that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
And I’m not writing this to stir fear and paranoia, ya… none of this changes anything in the bigger scheme of things. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. And of course, I’m not advocating that we look at Muslims as our enemies. Far from it. We need to show them the love of God, pray for them, pursue fruitful relationships with them and seek to speak into the lives of those who will allow it. But Islam as a religion has a spiritual root that, as far as I can tell, is different to the Judeo-Christian (personally, I think that’s why it denies the most important doctrines in our faith while claiming, at the same time, to be the truth). It’s important to be aware of this, in my opinion. So I cannot agree that our differences are practically negligible. I cannot regard this issue as innocuous. I can’t neglect what I know. People are free to disagree with me and I won’t take it personally, but this is simply what I think.
After this, the thread fell quiet… until about a month later, when I read the most cogent piece of writing by fellow blogger Katherine Hamilton, who, several weeks prior, had actually attended a lecture by Miroslav Volf personally in America – at about the same time this discussion was unfolding in a Malaysian Internet community!
… Even more astonishing, her essay was underpinned by an analysis of the conclusion to C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, which one of the members of my own email group had brought up earlier in order to make his point.
Coincidences notwithstanding, I was also humbled and deeply moved and impressed at the incisive honesty with which Katherine articulated her thoughts, so I decided to do a bit of sharing myself, and posted the piece to the group. This series will conclude with the next entry.