Before I take up his points, I would like to remind him that, to us, Muslims, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them both, are brothers, as both of them were prophets chosen for the task of conveying God's message to mankind. As Muslims, we are required to believe in all of God's messengers and all prophets, making no distinction between them, and praising all of them for undertaking the task of guiding humanity along the right path. All the messages preached by all the prophets are essentially the same, based on the principle of the Oneness of God.
The divine faith has always been the same, ever since Adam was created and given the position of Prophethood. Every time a new prophet came, he confirmed the message of prophets before him. He told his people clearly that he was merely a servant of God, conveying the revelations vouchsafed to him. Even the prophet Jesus, son of Virgin Mary, said this most clearly, making it plain that he did not seek to change God's law, but to confirm it. On God's order, he relaxed certain things that were previously prohibited to the Israelites. Otherwise, he confirmed the divine law as outlined in the Old Testament. That Christians changed it later on is evident from the fact that they assigned a son to God, when Jesus made no claim to having any such relationship with God. In so doing, they borrowed a pagan concept which is alien to the very basis of the divine faith. The first point mentioned by the reader is that "Jesus brought the dead to life, while the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, executed people whom he considered to be wrongdoers." We must be clear about something. Life and death are matters determined by God alone. No one can bring the dead back to life or can cause death except God. It is true that Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, did such an act, but he himself stated clearly that he only did it by God's will and permission. It was not something that he could accomplish on his own. It was a miracle granted to him by God.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did not classify people as wrongdoers on his own accord. Nor did he impose any punishment on any offender except the punishment God Himself has prescribed. Certain crimes merit the capital punishment and God has decreed that all perpetrators of such crimes shall be punished by death. Therefore, it is not open to anyone to change God's law or to reduce the punishment after it has been established beyond any doubts and in accordance with the requirements of the divine law that a crime has been committed. For example, the punishment for murder is death. When it has been confirmed that a person has committed murder, either by his own confession or by the testimony of the required witnesses, then no judge, ruler or prophet, can change the prescribed punishment. It must be carried out [subject only to acceptance of blood money by the relations of the deceased; again as provided by God's law.]
You speak of the Prophet, peace be upon him, executing people he considered to be wrongdoers. What does that mean? Were they the perpetrators of crimes for which the death punishment has been prescribed by God? If so, then he was only carrying out God's orders and implementing His law. By the way, the same crimes are punishable by death in the Old Testament and there is no evidence that the Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, had ever suggested that their punishment was relaxed. A murder is punishable by death in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So is adultery, but the Jews and Christians of today do not want to know of that.
The second point concerns harboring wrong intentions and evil thoughts. The reader writes: "Jesus said, 'Even if you look at a woman with lust, your sin is as grave as adultery'. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said that evil thoughts are not wrong and are permissible because God forgives them." Here the reader is attributing statements to Prophets Jesus Christ and Muhammad, peace be upon them both. I think it is only fair that when we attribute a statement to someone, we should quote the exact statement, not the way we understand it. In this way, we ensure that no twisting of the meaning takes place. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, never said that evil thoughts were not wrong, or they were permissible. What he said is that "God overlooks for my community what they contemplate until they proceed to do it." When you reflect on this statement, you find that it opens up an expanse of forgiveness. All human beings may contemplate wrong actions such as a self-indulgence here or there, taking away something that belongs to others when discovery is practically impossible, etc.
If they resist such thoughts and make sure that they do not do what they have contemplated, then they certainly merit forgiveness because they have been able to fight Satan and resist him. Consider that if Adam did not eat of the forbidden fruit in heaven, he would certainly not have been expelled from it.
That is because he would have been able to overcome the persuasion of Satan. This exactly is the meaning of the Prophet's statement. It encourages resistance to evil at every level. If God would have punished us for every thought that may occur to us, [we would have translated every evil thought into action as the hope of avoiding punishment would have been totally eliminated and] every single one of us would be condemned to everlasting suffering in the Hereafter. But God is far more compassionate than that. He forgives thoughts unless they materialize into action. Every civilized law does the same.
I admit that I find the comparison you have made rather strange. The Prophet Muhammad's statement speaks of thoughts, while the statement you have attributed to the Prophet Jesus refers to an action. You surely recall your own quotation which says, "If you look at a woman with lust". That is a deliberate, lustful gaze. It is an action, and one of the first things we learn in Islam is that we are accountable for what we do.
It may surprise you to know that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has made a similar statement. He is quoted to have said: "The eyes commit adultery through gazing, and the hands commit adultery through forceful action, and the legs commit adultery through walking and the mouths commit adultery through kissing" (Related by Ahmad ibn Hanbal). The Prophet's statement makes it clear that whatever action that may lead to adultery may also be described as such in relation to the human organ which is used for that action from the most preliminary aspect of sexual contact with anyone except with one's lawfully wedded wife.
The third point my reader makes is as follows: "At his dying moment, Jesus said, 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do'. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, cursed the Christians and the Jews on his deathbed." I have no argument to make on the first part of my reader's statement. What is attributed to the Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, is only to be expected from one of God's messengers whom the Qur'an describes as the five "endowed with the strongest resolve." What is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is blatant lie. On his death bed, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, took care to remind his followers of their duty toward God and strongly emphasized that they must be good to vulnerable groups. He kept repeating: "Attend regularly to your prayers. Be kind to your slaves and do not ask them to do what is beyond their ability. Fear God in your treatment of women."
At one stage in his lifetime, the Prophet, peace be upon him, warned his followers against following the example of the Christians and the Jews, pointing out that God has rejected both communities for constructing places of worship at the graves of their saints and prophets. But perhaps, I should remind you at this point of an event in the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, when he went to Taif to try to win acceptance of his message from its people. That was at a time when, after ten years in Makkah, he felt that he was besieged with his small band of followers. He tried to expand the area of his message, so he went to Taif and spoke to its people.
They ill-treated him, insulted him and instigated children and slaves to chase him out of the city. They even stoned and humiliated him, and his feet were bleeding. He had to seek refuge in the garden of one of those who opposed his call. He sat under a tree and addressed a heartfelt prayer to God. An angel came to him and said that he needed only command him and he was ready to bring the mountains over them. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "No I hope that God will bring them from among their offspring people who would worship Him alone." I can tell you that for compassion and mercy, no one can ever match the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
The fourth point made by my reader is that "Jesus lived a sinless life, and did not marry, while Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, married several women and had sexual relationship with them." I really do not see the point in this statement.
I appreciate that the Prophet Jesus had a sinless life, and as a Muslim, I sincerely believe that the Prophet Jesus led a pure life and did not come close to sin at any time. But so did all the prophets, may God be pleased with them all. And so was the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as well. What I find strange in my reader's point is that he implies that marriage is incompatible with purity from sin. He praises Jesus for leading a sinless life without marriage, and contrasts that with the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. But marriage is a legitimate practice that has been encouraged by God and by all the prophets, including Prophet Jesus. It is a duty of the two marriage partners to help each other maintain their chastity by fulfilling their sexual desire in the legitimate way, within the confines of marriage. May I remind you that it is Christians who speak of marriage as "holy matrimony."
The argument my reader makes in his next point goes on like this: "Jesus said what goes in you does not defile [pollute] you, but what comes out of you defiles you (i.e. evil is from the heart). The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, preached and led emphasis on body cleanliness." I am not quite clear what is meant by the statement attributed to the Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him. If it is meant figuratively, then perhaps it means that deliberate evil actions must always be avoided. There is no doubt that they must be. This is what has been preached by all the prophets, starting with Adam and ending with Muhammad, may God's blessings be upon them all. Ablutions in Islam are simply physical actions which are preliminary to spiritual ones such as prayers. Thus they bring a harmony of purity of both body and soul. But certainly they are not the most important part. Nor are they sufficient on their own. Therefore, it is the purity of man not the body which must be achieved. What quarrel anyone may have with that, I fail to understand.
My reader's next point is rather clearer. He says: "Jesus forgave the sinful prostitute and asked the man without any sin to cast the first stone, meaning that everyone sins but are not caught red-handed like the prostitute. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, condemned the sinful to death." This is yet another example of how misinformed by reader is. Had he received proper and correct information, he most certainly would not have made these comparisons. It was an important aspect of the teachings of a great prophet like Jesus to remind the people that all human beings are liable to commit sins, trivial and grave. Before any of them should think too well of himself, he should remember his own mistakes and sins. That is why he invited the person without a sin to cast the first stone. But this did not mean that the prostitute was forgiven. It was not open to the Prophet Jesus to waive God's punishment.
It is again a falsehood to claim that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, condemned the sinful to death. I already quoted his Hadith advising sinners to seek the protection of the cover extended by God to all of us. We should trust in God's forgiveness and try to win it by good actions. As I have explained, it is not open to anyone to modify, amend or change God's legislation. Hence, if a punishable crime is committed and the perpetrator is identified in the proper legal manner that Islam prescribes, which requires either free confession or a testimony by witnesses who have seen the action, then the punishment must be enforced. But then Islam does not require anyone to make a confession, nor does it require a witness to come forward to testify, except where the rights of other people have to be preserved. When a man came to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, to testify against an adulterer, the Prophet, peace be upon him, told him: "Shouldn't you have done better and covered him with your dress?"
My reader then moves to the question of marriage and how Christianity emphasized monogamy and the permanency of marriage, while Islam permits divorce and allows polygamy. I have a surprise for my reader. Polygamy used to be an acceptable practice among Christians until a couple of centuries ago.
Moreover, it is still practiced among the Christians in Africa. Missionaries who tried to spread Christianity among pagan tribes in Africa have been unable to persuade new converts that monogamy is the only acceptable practice. Hence, they turned a blind eye to the fact that many of these have remained polygamous even after declaring that they have become Christians.
I have often explained that both divorce and polygamy are allowed in Islam as solutions to insurmountable human and social problems. It is inconceivable that a married couple who have not been able to achieve a tolerable degree of compatibility and who continue to quarrel with each other time and again, should be asked to live together, only because we do not want to give them a break clause in their marriage contract. It is because of the impracticability of the permanency of marriage that many Christian societies, particularly European and American societies have come to terms and they now put in clauses for divorce in their marriage contracts. Marriage remains a much more respectable and serious institution in all Muslim communities.
I would have never thought that Christian and Muslim attitudes to marriage and divorce would ever be a reason to tempt a Muslim family to convert to Christianity. Perhaps it is in your case an additional factor of secondary importance. But when you consider the question in depth, you are bound to conclude that the Islamic way is far more practical, moral and likely to produce stable family relationships.
The reader then moves to aspects of the second life saying that the Prophet Jesus explained that "the soul will be made into the image and likeness of God, and it will have continuous ecstasy engulfed in the love of God. Islam on the other hand, speaks of giving each man sixty-nine wives with large almond-shaped eyes." He asks what does the soul have to do with wives in heaven? Will there be sexual pleasure for the soul? This is yet another point where words are taken out of context and certain aspects are stressed while others, far more important, are overlooked. At no time does the Qur'an mention that any person will have so many wives in heaven. Indeed, the term, "wife", is not used at all in connection with the pleasures of heaven.
Nor is there any mention of any figure. I am surprised indeed to learn of sixty-nine wives for each man, when the frequent figure normally mentioned in this connection is seventy. The Qur'an speaks of the believers having companions in heaven. It is true that they are described as having very beautiful eyes and they are like "treasured pearls", but there is not even the slightest hint that there is any sexual relationship with those. Indeed, many scholars have explained that the sexual desire is strongly connected to the need of pro-creation which is a mark of the life of this world. In the Hereafter, the test to which man is expected will have to come to an end. Therefore, there will be no need for any new generation.
All human generations will have had their chance and they receive their reward or punishment in the Hereafter. The standard view, however, is that in heaven, the human soul will be reunited with its body form, free from any handicaps that encumbered them in this life.
My reader then refers to the creation of Jesus, and that it is mentioned in both the Bible and the Qur'an that he was born to Virgin Mary who had conceived him through no relationship with any man but with the Power of God. He asks, "Why did God choose a woman for the birth of Jesus, instead of bringing him into the world by some other means? Was Jesus right to claim that he was the son of God?"
As for the first part of this question, which relates to the method of creation chosen by God, we Muslims have learned that God "cannot be questioned about what he does". We try to understand the wisdom and the purpose of anything that God may have chosen, but if we cannot find a satisfactory answer, we accept this as part of the work of God's free will. Had God chosen another method, people would still ask why did He choose that one and not a different method. He is certainly able to choose the method He wants and produce the outcome He pleases.
As for the second part of this question, whether Jesus was right to claim that he was the son of God, you have first of all to prove that he made such a claim. The authenticity of the Gospel is a hotly debatable point. Do not forget that the earliest of the Gospels was written at least seventy years after God had gathered Jesus and raised him to heaven. It is not open to anyone to claim that he is the son of God, because God simply does not beget children. Why should He? The idea of having two generations, or more, is intertwined with the facts of life and death. When death overcomes a human being, he would wish he has had children, not merely to bear his name, but to ensure the survival of the human kind. Do not forget that God is immortal. Why should He have a son? May I ask what is the main function of a "son of God"? Do you not find it singular that Christians assign the "lordship" to Jesus, when it belongs totally to God Himself? He is indeed the Lord of the Universe.
My reader then wonders why we use the phrase, "peace be upon him", when we mention the name of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He asks whether the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, stands in need of peace? The Christians, on the other hand, pray for peace from Jesus who is himself peace. They quote his words, "my peace I leave unto you." I will begin answering this point by mentioning to you that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, once heard a cousin of his referring to a woman who had just died as "having been relieved of her troubles". The Prophet, peace be upon him, spoke to that lady and said: "How do you know that she is now without a burden? I am God's messenger and I do not know what will happen to me." This is certainly a mark of humility on the part of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He is told in the Qur'an that God has forgiven him any sins he might have committed or may yet commit in the remainder of his life. The peace comes from God the Creator. That is why we Muslims show our respect to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and indeed to all prophets, by attaching the prayer "peace be upon him" whenever we mention any prophet. We attach it to the name of the Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, as we do indeed with the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
My reader then moves on to the specific point of the Prophet's marriage with several women and says: "The Christians claim that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, had a weakness of the flesh (sex) and therefore married several widows under the pretext of looking after them. Is it because of this that he has permitted Muslim men to marry several wives? His point is best answered by historical facts. The Prophet, peace be upon him, married Lady Khadeejah, a woman who was considerably older than him, when he was twenty-five years of age. For twenty five years he had no other wife, nor was he ever seen or observed to have any leanings toward any woman. He never contemplated marrying another woman.
When Lady Khadeejah died, he was without a wife for sometime. All his later marriages came after he and his followers settled down in Madinah and established the Islamic State. I can tell you that most of these marriages had special reasons, some were legislative, some were political and others were humanitarian. He did not need to have a pretext for what he should do. Polygamy was widely practiced in Arabia. Indeed Islam limited this practice, allowing a man to have only four wives. If it was the Prophet, peace be upon him, who made legislation, and if the claim you have mentioned was true, he would certainly have made no restriction on polygamy. Moreover, if he had that weakness, would it have remained dormant when he was a young man and only surfaced when he was over fifty?
My reader mentions the practice of some older men marrying young wives and reflects on the tragic outcome of certain incidents. He feels that the Prophet, peace be upon him, should have foreseen such an abuse. I can tell him that the Prophet, peace be upon him, did not legislate matters, because the Legislator is God Himself. God, as you know, has perfect knowledge of all things, past, present and future. That He has permitted polygamy means that polygamy is good for human life in general although it is preferable for most people to have only one wife.
Abuse of legal permission is found in all human societies. That does not mean that such legal rights should be denied. We should try to ensure that a legal right is practiced properly. When it is not, then the offender should be punished.
The next point my reader makes is concerned with cleanliness after urination. He asks what about the urine that collects inside the body. He wonders whether God looks at a human being the way we humans look at each other.
I admit that I cannot see the point he is trying to make. Certainly harmful stuff may collect within the body, before it is discharged. If Islam wants its followers to clean themselves after such stuff is discharged, what is wrong in that? This applies to urine, stools, pus, blood etc. When it is within the body, there is no way to clean its place. God Himself has provided that facility. When it is discharged, the place of discharge has to be washed. What is wrong with that? If the reader is referring to ablutions, I have already explained that the physical purification is intertwined with the spiritual one.
My reader's last point concerns the similarity between the Qur'an and the Old Testament. He claims that the Qur'an is an identical copy of the Old Testament. I have already explained that God's message is one. The Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, preached the same message of the Oneness of God, as did other prophets, such as Abraham, Joseph, David, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Since the divine message provides legislation for people to follow, and since human beings are the same in all ages, certain legislation would be emphasized in one message after another, until the final message embodied in the Qur'an which God has guaranteed to preserve intact. As you realize, the Old Testament and the Torah underwent some distortion which touched even on very serious and important principles, such as the principle of resurrection and reward which has been watered down in Judaism. But it is certainly untrue to claim that the Qur'an is an identical copy of the Old Testament. My reader needs only take out the two books and read them.
I have attempted to answer the points my reader raised very briefly, because I cannot afford to give a single reader so much space. He has not provided me with a full address or a telephone number to discuss the matter directly with him. I hope my comments are useful to him and I pray that God guides him and all of us to the path that is straightest.