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anti-anthropomorphism owes more to pagan Xenophanes of Colophon and his heirs
than to Divine Inspiration.
The relationship between Islam and Greek
philosophy is just as complex and entangled as that between external
Christianity and Greek philosophy. There is a wide spectrum of
positions on Greek philosophy within Islam - from the deep affection
and admiration expressed by Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Al Kindi, Al
Farabi and Ibn Rushd (Averroes), who prided themselves in being Muslim
philosophers, to the strong and often searching critique of Ibn Hanbal,
Ibn Taymiyyah and their disciples like Hassan al Banna, founder of the
Muslim brotherhood and Sayyid bin Qutb,
theological mentor of the takfir movement which
undergirds many extreme jihadists. Yet there is compelling evidence
even the most stringent critics of Greek philosophy have absorbed
poisonous and theologically lethal doses of heresy into their systems
of doctrine. I seek to illustrate this from the writings of the
Qur'an and Hadith itself, as well as from mainstream and widely
representative Sunni writers like Al-Ghazzali, his followers and some
of his more
In a time when anthropomorphisms were
rife in the pagan narratives of the petty, lying, bickering, carousing
gods of the Greeks, a philosopher called Xenophanes (c.570 - c.475 BC)
introduced a healthy but caustic satire for Homer and
Few fragments of his writings remain,
mainly in citations by others, but here are two samples:
say that their gods are flat-nosed and black, While the Thracians say
that theirs have blue eyes and red
Yet if cattle or horses or lions had
hands and could draw, and could sculpt like men, then the horses would
draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape bodies
of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.'
Al. Strom. vii. p. 841.)
'Homer and Hesiod attributed to the gods
which are disreputable and worthy of blame when done
by men; and they told of them many lawless deeds,
stealing, adultery, and deception of each other.'
525, n. 3. Cf. Diog Laer. ix. 18; Sext. Emp. Pyrrh. i. 224.)
far, so good, and in many ways, Xenophanes' words are reminiscent of
the scathing words of the prophets. Listen to Elijah's challenge to the
prophets of Baal:
'Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing,
or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be
Or Isaiah's ascerbic denunciations of idolatry:
'To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto
him? The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it
over with gold, and casteth silver chains. He that is so impoverished
that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh
unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be
moved. Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you
from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the
earth? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the
inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the
heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:
That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth
as vanity.' Isa.40.18-23
Or his extended treatment on the sheer blindness of worshipping an
(even though all idolaters always insist their particular idol is just a guide and help and not the actual object of worship -
Isaiah rubbishes the claim).
'They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their
delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses;
they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed. Who hath formed a
god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing? Behold,
all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let
them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear,
and they shall be ashamed together. The smith with the tongs both
worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it
with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength
faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint. The carpenter stretcheth
out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes,
and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure
of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the
house. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak,
which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he
planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a
man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he
kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth
it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth
part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he
roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith,
Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: And the residue thereof he maketh
a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth
it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.
They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that
they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And
none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor
understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I
have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and
eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I
fall down to the stock of a tree? He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart
hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is
there not a lie in my right hand?' Isaiah 44.9-20
Or the chilling verdict of Psalm 115.4-8a:
'But our God is in the heavens: he hath
done whatsoever he hath pleased.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk
not: neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto
and concludes, v.17-18, of the Zombie-like state of idolaters, in
contrast with genuine spirituality:
'The dead [in this life] praise not the LORD, neither any that go down
But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.
Praise the LORD.'
Which psalm has often been used to challenge idolaters who hide their
wickedness under the guise of a Christian pretence,
Orthodox, or even supposedly Protestant, but applies equally well to
Muslim and Hindu idolators.
The chasm between sterile philosophical speculation and the true nature
But Xenophanes and with him many
philosophical reactionaries to anthropomorphisms go much further than
these reproofs, to the extent they denied the scriptural doctrine of
the Personality, relationality of the living God, the friend of Abraham
and the Father of His chosen people.
Xenophanes for example also wrote, 'One God, the greatest among
and men, not at all like mortals in body
Alex. Strom. v p.714. Euseb.Praep.Ev. xiii. 13, p.678.)
In and of itself the words sound reasonable, and seem reminscent
of Isaiah's grand statement of Divine superiority:
'For my thoughts are not your
thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher
than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.' Isa. 55.8-9.
However there appears to be more
here than a mere ascription of unfathomable superiority to
Deity, he expresses a precise and rigid view of the Divine mind,
'As a whole he sees, as a whole he thinks and as a whole he
This statement goes some way beyond merely expressing omniscience, it
carries important implications for how God thinks and senses. It can
only be approached as a negation of what man is and how he thinks, 'not at all like mortals'.
The problem is that this flies directly in the face of the express
declaration of God's own mind. The Law of Moses, a Jewish volume
written many centuries before Xenophanes, at the inspiration of God,
repeatedly condemns the making of God in our image. On the other hand,
it expressly asserts that God has made man in His own image. God is not
our analogy, but we are His -
distinctive created analogy of Him!
'And God said, Let us make man in our
image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of
the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over
all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the
earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created
he him; male and female created he them.' (Gen.1.26-27)
'And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of
every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of
every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth
man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God
made he man.' (Gen. 9.5-6)
Unique amongst all the visible works of His hands, man is
created like and in the
image of the Almighty. So to start by assuming that the only we can
understand God is by negating what we are or how we think is to deny
His own wisdom, discount His revelation, and walk in darkness. Paradoxically this denial of similarity actucally puts a priority on our ideas of God over His revelation! It's error almost as heinous as bowing to a calf, to say we know better than God spoke, and that He must utterly different to us in every way, when it is He that asserts the similarity. This, of course, doesn't deny
that an infinite and unbridgeable distinction exists between Creator
and creature, but on the other hand, frail man has had placed within
him the Divine breath, a peculiar honour not recorded of all other
creatures, not even of the angels:
'The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into
his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul'
Xenophanes entertains another curiously defective view of God's being,
'And always he stays in the
same place, not moving at all, nor is it
fitting for him to travel in different directions at different times.'
6. v 23,20)
Instead of Holy Scripture's lofty and exalted view of God's
and omnipresence, His being present in all places, yet at all times
distinct from Creation, Xenophanes admires a shrunken Deity. One who is
fixed and immobile, in 'the same place', One who it seems is curtailed
and restricted in abode, albeit a vast and unmeasurably great expanse.
One Who senses and observes, but is not always immediately present.
This theme of unmovable
locality is also taken up and developed by other
philosophers, in particular
Parmenides, a strikingly original if rather incoherent
thinker, who Aristotle suggests was a pupil of Xenophanes (Metaph.i.5;
986 b l8).
critically cites Parmenides on
several occasions and he may well have inspired the famous
Aristotelian proposition of the First Cause as the unmoved Mover, 'The
principle must be one, unmoved, as Parmenides and Melissos say, . . .'
Phys. i. 2; 184 b 16.)
There is an indication
of this local confinement of the Divine Being in some expressions also
in the Qur'an and the Hadith - though their implications have been
contested. For example:
اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ
مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ
الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ
الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِنْ شَجَرَةٍ
مُبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ
زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ
نُورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ ۗ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ
لِنُورِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۚ وَيَضْرِبُ
اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ ۗ
وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ ٢٤:٣٥
Allah is the Light of the
heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a
Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it
were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of
the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire
scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to
His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know
Sura An-Nur (24.35)
Though attractively allegorical, the text alludes
constrained location and confinement of God's light, which is equated
to His essence.
God is described as being 'in Heaven' suggesting He might not also be
actually present on Earth, except by the exercise of His power and by
مَنْ فِي السَّمَاءِ أَنْ يَخْسِفَ بِكُمُ الْأَرْضَ فَإِذَا هِيَ تَمُورُ
ye feel secure that He Who is in
Heaven will not cause you to be swallowed up by the earth when
it shakes (as in an earthquake)?
أَمْ أَمِنْتُمْ مَنْ فِي
السَّمَاءِ أَنْ يُرْسِلَ عَلَيْكُمْ حَاصِبًا ۖ
فَسَتَعْلَمُونَ كَيْفَ نَذِيرِ ٦٧:١٧
Or do ye feel secure
that He Who is in Heaven will
not send against you a violent tornado (with showers of stones), so
that ye shall know how (terrible) was My warning?
Sura Al-Malik 16,17
The 47th Name of God is oft cited to prove Omnipresence and certainly
implies measureless breadth, but not necessarily omnipresent immanence
throughout all Creation.
A mainstream exponent of Islam, in
Al-Ghazzali's mantle, carefully omits omnipresence from the list of
Divine attributes, preferring instead to describe God as 'over His
glorious throne', and describing His omnipresence in terms merely of
His perception, 'He is everywhere by
His knowledge' [emphasis mine].
The detailed Aqidah
al-Tahawiyya by Imam Abu Ja'far al-Tahawi al-Hanafi (239-321 AH),
an eminent disciple of Imam Shafi'i, head of the most eclectic school
of Sunni Law, also omits mention of Omnipresence.
Some mainline Sunni Muslims
claim of Ibn Taymiyyah and the Salafis who follow him, 'The Salafis
have stripped Allah Ta'ala of His Attribute of Omnipresence and have
assigned Him into a specified section of created space.'
Sufis, like Qunyawi, Jandi,
Tilimsani, Qayshari, and Jami on the other hand often slip into or
verge on pantheism or panentheism (God is the soul of all) - wahdat al
wujud (وحدة الوجود) God is
One with His creation. Reconciliation of these two heretical positions
different from the inspired writings which preceded the Qur'an !
'Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell,
behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be
light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the
day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.' (Psalm
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven
of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have
builded? (1Kings 8.27)
How vastly different from the doubtful ruminations and rigid but
impersonal dogmas of Greek unbelief!
There are passages in the Bible that seem to speak of God's locality,
as in the Qur'an, as there are other anthropomorphisms, of His hand,
His eyes, His eyelids, His back, His heart, His repentance and so
on. These need to be interpreted carefully to be faithful to the
true sense of the Author.
Gen.11.5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which
the children of men builded.
Or v.7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that
they may not understand one another's speech.
The LORD God says to Abraham in Gen.18.21 'I will go down now,
and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it,
which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.'
But the very next verse clarifies exactly what is intended,
v.22a And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward
The two men, clarified later to be angels (19 v.1,15) were sent into
the city. Their presence provoked a reaction which exposed the
utterly godless character of the inhabitants. The LORD said, 'I will go
down', the angels were the only visible, local manifestation of this.
They were His representatives - the LORD was already present by His
omnipresence, His 'going down' is a figure of speech for His
intervention and judging. We will return to the fascinating sense of
the second half of v.22 later.
A similar expression takes place after the apostasy of the golden calf.
After Moses intercession and Israel's acts of contrition, God says, 'And I will send an angel
before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the
Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: Unto a land
flowing with milk and honey: for I
will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked
people: lest I consume thee in the way.' Exod.33.2-3. An angel will be
sent to deliver and conquer, but not God's
presence, there will be a
technical fulfillment of promise only.
Moses protests the promises with the Lord, 'If thy presence go not with
me, carry us not up hence.' (v.15) The Lord is prevailed upon and
graciously promises, 'My presence shall go with
thee, and I will give thee rest.' (v.14). Does this mean God's
being is somehow confined in place or time ? Of course not, He speaks of
the presence of His power and favour, a sensed and known presence of
communion and friendship, which Israel has unworthily betrayed. Moses
then goes on to request and receive a unique experience of this
communion with God's glory, (v.18-19). So these expressions are wholly
compatible with God's omnipresence, 'Do not I fill heaven and earth?
saith the LORD.' (Jer.23.24).
An area of
distinction between Xenophanes and both Islam and
Judeo-Christian revelation: the method of Creation.
Frag 3. But without effort he sets in motion all
mind and thought. (Phys.
Xenophanes identifies no agency between Creator and
creation, no mediation of Creation. This is a large subject, but it is
a position which leaves Xenophanes prone to pantheism and a blurring of
spirit and matter.
Frag 9. For we are all sprung from earth and water. [Zeller,
541, n. 1.
Cf. Sext. Emp Pyrrh. ii. 30.]
This generation of Creation straight from thought fuels
Aristotle's assertion that Xenophanes considers all being as one,
as though, with the Sufis, God is the soul or mind of all being:
'Xenophanes first taught the unity of these things (Parmenides is said
to have been his pupil), but he did not make anything clear, nor did he
seem to get at the nature of either of these things, but looking up
into the broad heavens he said : The unity is god.' (Metaph.
i. 5; 986 b 10.)
Frag 10. All things that come into being and grow are
earth and water. [Joh.
Philoponus Phys. i.186, though another attributes this to
An unmediated creation is properly rejected both by the Bible and by
Gen. 1.2 'And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.'
God's command and Word mediates and generates His conception.
Ps.33.6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all
the host of them by the breath of his mouth.
وَالْأَرْضِ ۖ وَإِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُنْ
To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth:
When He decreeth a matter, He saith to it: "Be," and it is.
It is by God's Word that all things came into being. The mode of
creation is an important aspect of true faith in God, to which
philosophers are blind.
Heb.11.3 'Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the
word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things
which do appear.'
The failure to perceive this distinction leads to the downward slope of
confusion between Creator and creation, to idolatry and godlessness.
Rom.1.25 'Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and
served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.
This prompts the important question, for which the Muʿtazilah
(المعتزلة) were properly condemned, is God's word part of the Creation
or an aspect of the Creator? They suggested the Word was a created entity.
most telling and resonant rejection of anthropomorphism by Xenophanes
found in another passage:
'But mortals suppose that the gods are born (as they themselves
are), and that they wear man's clothing and have human voice and body.'
Alex. Strom. v. p.714)
Now of course, Xenophanes'
human wisdom seems very reasonable. The crucial question is whether it
wholly agrees God's own unfathomable and mysterious mind, not just with
our own foolish and darkened suppositions about God.
The answer from manifold passages in both the Jewish Tenach (the Old
Testament) and the New Testament is a resounding no!
Can the sublime and ineffable God
appear before men in human form?
It is doubtless lawless idolatry for men to compose their own
abominable images of God (Deut. 4.16), but since man is created in the
image of God, not God in the image of man, can God manifest Himself
before men as man? It would be reckless and dangerous for us to
speculate. The Scriptures leave us no room for doubt. Again and again,
the Lord appears before men as man.
Take Abraham, for example, in confirming the promise of the miraculous
birth of a son to the ageing parents, it is written:
Gen.17.1 'And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD
appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk
before me, and be thou perfect.'
There is no doubt that the person speaking with Abraham was Himself
v.3 'And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him,
At the conclusion of the meeting,
v.22 'And he left off talking with him, and God went up from
These appearances are called theophanies, and they abound in the Tenach
(the Old Testament).
In the next recorded instance, the Lord accompanied by two angels,
condescends to eat with Abraham.
Gen.18. 1 'And the LORD appeared unto him[Abraham] in the plains of
Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;'
v.8 'And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had
dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree,
and they did eat.'
This is the One of Whom Abraham says later in the passage, v.27 'Behold
now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but
dust and ashes.'
On another occasion, God condescends to make Himself known to Isaac
(Gen.26.2), to Jacob (Gen.32.20,35.9), to Moses (Exod.3) and Aaron
(Exod.24.10), to Samson's parents (Judg.13.22), and to other prophets
in similar ways. In many instances the Person appearing is described as
the Angel or Messenger of
God, distinguised from an angel, He is marked out as the Word or Agent
Now we ask again, that most myterious question, is the Word of God a
creation of God or Himself the
The Scriptures say,
Jn.1.1-3 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him;
and without him was not any thing made that was made.'
1 Jn.1.1-2 'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our
hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested,
and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal
life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)'
The Qur'an also bears some testimony to this truth:
الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ
أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِنْهُ
Of course the
context of the verse includes an attack on tritheism (say not three),
but the construction اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ is
telling, it implies not a word but the (definite article) Word, it is
the title uniquely
Christ in both the Bible and the Qur'an.
Christ Jesus the son of Mary was a messenger of Allah, and His
which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him
Here is the kernel of God's revelation:
1 Tim.3.16 'And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels,
preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into
In John's Gospel, the Spirit puts it this way:
Jn.1.14 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we
beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,)
full of grace and truth.'
This is what the Bible means when it speaks of the Eternal Son, not One
procreated from Mary (from whom the Word only received His human
nature), but the Preexisting Wisdom and Word of God, mysteriously sent
to reveal God's being:
Jn.1.18 'No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son,
which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.'
Human minds may stumble at this possibility, indeed we are warned very
plainly, that this is a truth only God can reveal to our hard and
Matt.16.17 'Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath
not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.'
Mt 11.27 'All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no
man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the
Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.'
Yet here is the heart of the most profound mystery:
Col.2.9 'For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.'
Gainsayers and doubters are warned that they are forfeiting life itself,
1 Jn.4.1-3 'Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the
spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone
out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that
confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every
spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is
not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have
heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.'
1 Jn.5.10-12 'He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in
himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he
believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the
record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his
'He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God
hath not life.'
Which side does Xenophanes fall of these warnings?
In the issue of Divine generation, the Arabian prophet has also unconsciously swallowed the poisoned chalice of
pagan Greek philosophy whole. He reacted, as Xenophanes did before
him, against the banal and superstitious polytheism of his ancestors
with a zealous rigour that runs far beyond
what God had revealed. Islam
in as much as it differs from God's word, is at root a strange
synthesis of Arabian paganism and its fertility cult with Greek
In this Islam has tragically followed their sterile and
chilling view of a new god who is not much more than a negation of
anthropomorphisms. One who can best be defined by what He is not - an
apophatic deity - a subtle philosophical idol. This was most evident in
the heretical Mu'tazili school, which with rigorous neo-Platonic
consistency, went so far as to deny distinction of God's attributes
from His essence, but its influence is pervasive in other branches of
Islam as well.
Paul's response to Athen's idolaters and philosophers,
'For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of
your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think
that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art
and man's device.' (Acts 17.28-29).
Here is the balance of truth: Divine transcendence and Divine immanance - He is
altogether above and
seperate from mankind but not less personal not less real, on the
contrary He is more present,
more personal, far more real than we. His
presence is in every place, sustaining, upholding the minutiae of
Creation - observing, interacting, reacting - in all things His glory
will be displayed, and in whatever ultimately derogates from Him, He
restrains or removes. (Ps 76.10)
Paul utterly rejects the banality of worshipping stone or metal as
Divine images, and retains the truth of the majestic Creation passages
that we are the offspring of God. We bear His
sacred image in our
spirits, we bear His distinctive likeness - however defiled and damaged
it has become by our sin - it remains His distinctive hallmark in
Xenophanes has overreacted to serious error, and in doing so has
neglected and wounded this vital balancing truth. In so doing
has himself fallen into the heresy of depersonalising and demeaning God
- like his successors he has sterilised the Godhead,
....and Islam has swallowed this Greek doctrine - hook, line and sinker, even more deeply than anti-Messianic rabbinic Judaism.
crucial watersheds which
side does Islam take? The Prophets or the pagan philosophers?
Fatherhood of God
'Doubtless thou art our father, though
Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD,
art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.' Isa 63.16
Does Islam recognise the fatherly nature of the Almighty - is His
friendship, the friendship for which Abraham is named the khalil of
realisable in Islam - or has it been neutralised by the tauhid?
of His love compared to a mother's for her suckling child
'Can a woman forget her sucking child,
that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they
may forget, yet will I not forget thee.' Isa. 49.15
Does Islam, for all its emphasis on the
womb and on procreation, recognise the tender motherliness of God's
nature - His tender lovingkindess, of which the deepest and fiercest
maternal instincts are but a pallid shadow.
is God's own
analogy for His wonderful devotion and covenant to His dear but
'Now when I passed by thee, and looked
upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt
over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and
entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou
becamest mine.' Ezek 16.6
'Where is the bill of your mother's
divorcement, whom I have put away?' Isaiah 50.1
Does Islam recognise the intimacy and closeness of God to His people,
His minute interest in their affairs and concerns?
Can Islam say of His chosen ones, they
are the apple of His eye? (De 32.10, Ps.17.8.
Can a Muslim recite as every true Christian of the Beloved, 'Whom have
I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside
thee.' (Ps.73.25) or 'I am My Beloved's and He is mine!' ?
Hosea's extraordinary mission to
demonstrate God's jealous love for His adulterous (idolatrous) people:
'The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to
Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of
whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from
the LORD.' Hosea 1.2
Hosea the holy prophet was required to marry a women of vice, in order
to give the most graphic demonstration to the people of how they had
demeaned and insulted God, the Holy One with Whom they had entered into
covenant, by their idolatry and apostasy.
'She went after her lovers, and forgat
me, saith the LORD.' Hos. 2.13
'And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I
betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in
lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in
faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.' Hos.2.19-20
Despite the unfaithfulness and waywardness of the people, and God's
severe chastisements for sin, He pursues them and woos them, just as He
commands Hosea to pursue and purchase back his foolish and adulterous
Could such a picture of patience and lovingkindness ever be found in
the Greek philosophers? On the contrary Socrates' disdain and
unkindness to his wife is well known, and their lives were usually full
of vice. Could it be found in Islam?
The whole of Solomon's Song of songs is the most extraordinary and
demonstration of God's love to His people and their sometimes lukewarm,
sometimes devoted response to His love. The book can be understood
cogently in no other way. Here is the very best of loves - a love
that makes even the best human passions look jaded, selfish and
narcissistic by comparison!
'Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her
beloved? I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother
brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee.
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love
is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof
are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a
man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would
utterly be contemned.' Song 8.5-7
The strongest of human affections are cold and dim images of the fire
of God's holy and jealous love for His people - does Islam here side
with the stoic Greek philosophers' abstractions of Deity, or the
covenanted and unchanging fire and passion of His Holy Word?
Why did God require Abraham to endure
the horror of the command to sacrifice his dear and only son?
'Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing
thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.' Gen. 22.12b
Here was not just a test of faith, but
the gift by the test of an insight into God's own heart, and His great
sacrifice for us.
'And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast
done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply
thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the
sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;' Gen.
This is precisely why Jesus said, 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see
my day: and he saw it, and was glad.' Jn.8.56
'In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that
God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live
through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved
us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.' 1 Jn.
'...That the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them,
as thou hast loved me.
Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me
where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me:
for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.'
pagan Greek philosophy, Islam
knows nothing of this love, for it knows nothing of God's real Name.