The Anonymous Muslim

In my last post, Does Islam Believe Jews and Christians Are Saved?, I wrestled with what the Koran has to say about the eternal destiny of Jews and Christians.
Outside of the text, I’ve encountered different perspectives. When I was in New York, I attended a liberal Seventh-Day Adventist church, and a moderate Muslim spoke to us one Sabbath. The speaker appealed to the “open” passages of the Koran to suggest that Islam thinks Jews and Christians will be saved.

At Harvard, however, I was discussing the issue with a Roman Catholic, who said he encountered Muslim discussions on the eternal destiny of “those who never heard.” In Christianity, there is a belief that one must believe in Jesus Christ to be saved. This generates a variety of discussions over whether a good and loving God would send to hell those who never heard the Gospel. Some say that God will do precisely that, since God is just. Others hold that God will offer people a chance to be saved after death. Still others maintain that a person can be a “Christian” without knowing the name of Jesus Christ, provided he responds to the light that he has.

According to my friend, Islam has the same sort of debate: people are supposed to believe in God’s prophet to be saved, but does that mean everyone who doesn’t explicitly embrace Muhammad is condemned? I’ve not encountered a full-fledged discussion of this issue, but I find the following passage to be intriguing:

Sura 5:97-100: “Surely (as for) those whom the angels cause to die while they are unjust to their souls, they shall say: In what state were you? They shall say: We were weak in the earth. They shall say: Was not Allah’s earth spacious, so that you should have migrated therein? So these it is whose abode is hell, and it is an evil resort. Except the weak from among the men and the children who have not in their power the means nor can they find a way (to escape); So these, it may be, Allah will pardon them, and Allah is Pardoning, Forgiving. And whoever flies in Allah’s way, he will find in the earth many a place of refuge and abundant resources, and whoever goes forth from his house flying to Allah and His Apostle, and then death overtakes him, his reward is indeed with Allah and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”

I’m not entirely sure what this passage is about, to be honest. But I find it interesting that it distinguishes between two types of unbelievers: those who had the freedom and the opportunity to believe, and those who were helpless. According to this passage, God will have mercy on the helpless.

What I think is going on is this: the Islamic armies are about to attack a pagan, oppressive city, and the city’s inhabitants have a choice. Will they embrace the path of Allah and join the Islamic army? Or will they fight for the pagan, oppressive city? Some claim that they have a valid excuse not to leave the city, since they are oppressed. But Allah responds that they could have left anytime they wanted. At the same time, Allah acknowledges that some truly are trapped and may not know how to get out, so Allah has mercy on them.

Maybe this is a Muslim parallel to Christianity’s “those who never heard” debate, and maybe it’s not. On one hand, it looks like a clear choice for or against God is presented to the city, and that’s not really the case for those who never heard the name of Jesus Christ! On the other hand, the Koran takes into consideration the opportunity and ability of people to respond to God, affirming that God has compassion for those who lack knowledge.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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7 Responses to The Anonymous Muslim

  1. Anonymous says:

    Who will be saved?—an interesting question.
    The Roman Catholic Church—feels that all those who believe in a creator will be saved—see Catechisms —CCC839 to 843. CCC841 says “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the creator, in the first place amongst whom are the muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one merciful God, mankinds judge on the last day.
    Islam/Quran.—In the Quran, a “believer” is defined as (surah 2, verses 2, 3, 4,5 and 177) Those who believe in God and his revelations, who do charity, are steadfast in prayer, believe in Judgement day and have the right intentions that create right/good actions for the benefit of God’s creations. Thus “people of the Book” (Jews, Christians and the followers of Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) can be believers. The word “unbeliever” comes from the root word “ungrateful” and means “someone who has been given guidance but has rejected it and been ungrateful”. (and does not apply to those who have not been given guidance).

    According to the Quran, those of the “Abrahamic” faith are not the only ones to whom Guidance was sent. Surah 16, verse 36 ” For we assuredly sent amongst every people a messenger”. Surah 40, verse 78 “We sent messengers before you, there are some we have mentioned to you and there are others whom we have not mentioned to you”. (It is referring to non-biblical messengers/Prophets/ teachers of wisdom)


  2. xHWA says:

    “For him, God had nothing to do with the Old Testament, but the New Testament was God’s actual revelation. Consequently, he didn’t think that the Old Testament pointed to Christ.”
    Marcion contradicts himself, then. How does he reconcile the way that many people in the New Testament, including Jesus Himself, explained to others about the many places in the Old Testament that pointed to Christ?
    Christ is pictured from the very beginning. Even as far back as GEN. 3: 15!


  3. James Pate says:

    Hi Anonymous,

    I really appreciate your comments! I can read the Koran, but I don’t really know how what I’m reading plays out in the lives of actual Muslims. One question I have is this: I know there are different Muslim denominations. Are there some that are more excluvist–who believe one HAS to believe in Muhammad to be saved?

    Hi XHWA,

    Marcion believed there was a lot in the New Testament that was corrupted. At the same time, he accepted Paul and Luke, which appealed to the Old Testament. So I’m not sure how he reconciled all of this.

    I do think there are different ways to interpret OT passages that Christians apply to Christ. For example, Genesis 3:15 has been taken in some Jewish circles to mean the conflict between humans and snakes. I did a presentation on this a while back, if you want to read it.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Yes there are many sects in Islam from the mystics (Sufi) to the conservatives (Wahabi) and many sects inbetween the two spectrum. (also have the “extremists”) Apart from that, there are religions such as Bahai and Sikhism that have been influenced by the Quran.

    Because of the range—it is difficult to narrowly define who is or is not a “muslim”—the most accepted definition being one who believes in Oneness of God and that the Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) was his messenger.
    However, there are muslim groups who do have a very narrow definition and consider those who are not a part of their group as those who are on the “wrong path”.(and this would include other muslims as well as non-muslims)

    Salvation and Prophet Muhammed(pbuh)—To believe that
    Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) is a messenger of God is an important aspect of being “muslim” but is not tied to “salvation” in the way that faith in Jesus Christ, son of God, is tied to salvation. (The Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) is the messenger and the Quran is the message—both are important)

    The most unforgivable sin, according to the Quran, is rejection of God.

    Not sure if I have explained it well…..if not, please ask.


  5. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comments Anonymous. Do the extreme (or more conservative) sects of Islam also believe that Jews and Christians can be saved without accepting Muhammad as a prophet?


  6. Anonymous says:

    The short answer would be –No, they will not be “saved” ….but…
    I may not have explained well—Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) has nothing to do with “being saved” in the christian sense. To be a “muslim” as in “the follower of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh)” one must believe that he was a “Prophet”/messenger and that message is the Quran. However—this is only the first basic step to be “muslim” in that one has to follow the guidance given (Quran). Thus—if one is a “muslim” one is “saved” as in–one gets to go to heaven.

    Which is why there can be a range of “interpretation”. The Quran says Jews, Christians, other monotheists, and those who believe in God/Creator will go to heaven if they follow the guidance given to them. However, a few muslims could argue that —if that guidance were “corrupted” or “incorrect” (because of tampering by mankind,) then such people cannot be considered “believers” —thus only those who follow correct guidance (their particular version being the only correct one) would be the only ones to go to heaven. Thus Jews, Christians and other muslim not belonging to their “group” would not get to heaven. (A view that might be similar to Judaism in that — belief in Prophet Moses(pbuh) alone does not get one to heaven…..)

    (The Quran says that such judgments are not for people to make—the right/wrong will be decided by God alone.–and God is most merciful, most compassionate.Surah 5, verse 48 “…To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If he had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (his will is) to test you in what he has given you: so strive as in a race (competition) in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God. It is he that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute.”)


  7. James Pate says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Anonymous. I may write about the Koran and war this coming Saturday, so I’d be interested in your feedback to that post.


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