A Comparison With The Mohammedan
Doctrine of Predestination
While Mohammedanism is a false religion and utterly destitute of power to save the soul from sin, there are certain elements of truth in the system, and we are under obligation to honor truth regardless of the source from which it comes. "The strength of Mohammedanism," says Froude, "was that it taught the omnipotence and omnipresence of one eternal Spirit, the Maker and Ruler of all things, by whose everlasting purpose all things were, and whose will all things must obey." 1 The striking similarity between the Biblical and the Koranic doctrines of Predestination has been noticed by many writers. Dr. Samuel M. Zwemer, who in a very real sense can be referred to as "the apostle to the Mohammedan world," calls attention to the strange parallel between the Reformation in Europe under Calvin and that in Arabia under Mohammed. Says he: "Islam is indeed in many respects the Calvinism of the Orient. It, too, was a call to acknowledge the sovereignty of God's will. 'There is no god but God.' It, too, saw in nature and sought in revelation the majesty of God's presence and power, and manifestations of His glory, transcendent and omnipotent. 'God,' says Mohammed, 'there is no god but He, the living, the self-subsistent, slumber seizeth Him not, nor sleep — His throne embraceth the heavens and the earth and none can intercede with Him save by His permission. He alone is exalted and great' . . . . It is this vital theistic principle that explains the victory of Islam over the weak divided and idolatrous Christendom of the Orient in the sixth century . . . . The Message of Mohammed, when he first unfurled the green banner, 'There is no god but God; God is king, and you must and shall obey His will,' was one of the simplest accounts ever offered of the nature of God and His relation to man . . . . This was Islam, as it was offered at the sword's point to people who had lost the power of understanding any other argument."2
In addition to the Koran there are a number of orthodox traditions which claim to give Mohammed's teachings on the subject. Some of these tell in almost identical language how before the person is born an angel descends and writes his destiny. It is said that the angel inquires, "O my Lord, miserable or blessed? whereupon one or the other is written down; and: O my Lord, a male or a female? whereupon one or the other is written down. He also writes down the moral conduct of the new being, its career, its term of life, and its allotment of good. Then (it is said to him): Roll up the leaves, for no addition shall be made thereto, nor anything taken therefrom." In another tradition we read of a messenger of God speaking thus: "There is no one of you — there is no soul born whose place, whether Paradise or Hell, has not been predetermined by God, and which has not been registered beforehand as either miserable or blessed." 3
But while the Koran and the traditions teach a strict foreordination of moral conduct and future destiny, they also present a doctrine of human freedom which makes it necessary for us to qualify the sharper assertions of divine Predestination in harmony with it. And here, too, as in the Scriptures, no attempt is made to explain how the apparently opposite truths of Divine sovereignty and human freedom are to be reconciled.
As a matter of fact, however, Mohammedanism places such an emphasis on God as the sole cause of all events that second causes are practically excluded. The idea that man is in any way the cause of his own acts has nearly ceased to exist, and Fatalism, the normal belief of the Arabs in their state of semi-civilization before Mohammed, is the controlling force in the speculations and practices of the Moslem world. "According to these traditions," says Dr. Zwemer, "and the interpretation of them for more than ten centuries in the life of Moslems, this kind of Predestination should be called Fatalism and nothing else. For Fatalism is the doctrine of an inevitable necessity and implies an omnipotent and arbitrary sovereign power." 4
Practically, Mohammedanism holds to a predestination of ends regardless of means. The contrast with the Christian system is seen in the following story. A ship crowded with Englishmen and Mohammedans was ploughing through the waves. Accidentally one of the passengers fell overboard. The Mohammedans looked after him with indifference, saying, "If it is written in the book of destiny that he shall be saved, he shall be saved without us; and if it is written that he shall perish, we can do nothing"; and with that they left him. But the Englishmen said, "Perhaps it is written that we should save him." They threw him a rope and he was saved.
But whatever may be said about the doctrine of Predestination, no reasonable person will charge that the Christian doctrine is borrowed from the Mohammedan. Augustine, who is admitted by Protestants and Catholics alike to have been the outstanding man in the Christian Church at his time, and whom Protestants rate as the greatest between Paul and Luther, had taught this doctrine with great conviction more than two centuries before Mohammedanism arose; and it was aggressively taught by Christ and the apostles at the beginning of the Christian era, to say nothing of the place which it occupied in the Old Testament.
A study of the history and teachings of Mohammedanism reveals that it is made up of three parts, one of which was borrowed from the Jews, another from the Christians, and the third from the heathen Arabs. Hence a part of the system is nothing more nor less than Christianity at second hand. But would any reasonable Christian give up certain articles of his creed only because Mohammed adopted them in his? What great gaps such conduct would make in our creed can be seen when we learn that Mohammed believed in only one true God, that he utterly abolished all idol worship, that he believed in angels, a general resurrection and judgment, a heaven and hell, that he allowed both the Old and New Testaments, and recognized both Moses and Christ as prophets of God. It is small wonder, then, that elements of the Christian doctrine of Predestination were incorporated into the Mohammedan system and united with the heathen doctrine of Fatalism.
Furthermore, an historical study of this subject shows us that the Mohammedans have had their sort of Arminians as truly as we, and that the questions of Predestination and Free Will have been agitated among the Mohammedan doctors with as much heat and vehemence as ever they were in Christendom. The Turks of the sect of Omar hold the doctrine of absolute Predestination, while the Persians of the sect of Ali deny Predestination and assert Free Will with as much fervor as any Arminian.
Although the terms used in describing the Reformed and the Mohammedan doctrines of Predestination have much similarity the results of their reasoning are as far apart as the East is from the West. In fact, the further investigation proceeds the more superficial does the resemblance become. Their greatest resemblance seems to be in the teachings of each that everything which occurs happens according to the will of God. Yet very different ideas are meant by the "will of God." Islam reduces God to a category of the will and makes Him a despot, an oriental despot, who stands at abysmal heights above humanity. He cares nothing for character, but only for submission. The only affair of men is to obey His decrees, so that, as Zanchius says, Predestination becomes "a sort of blind, rapid, overbearing impetus, which, right or wrong, with means or without, carries all things violently before it, with little or no attention to the peculiar and respective nature of second causes." And concerning human freedom Dr. Zwemer says that in the doctrine of Islam, "God's omnipotence is so absolute that it excludes all self-activity on the part of the creature . . . . Whatever freedom is permitted is only under the term Kasb; that is, the appropriation of an act as his own which, after all, he is compelled to execute as a part of God's will."
The Koran and orthodox traditions have practically nothing to say about the concepts of sin and moral responsibility, and the morality of the Mohammedan system is notoriously defective. In Islam it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that God is the author of sin. The origin of sin and its character are wholly different concepts in Islam and in Christianity.
In Islam there is no doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and no purpose of redemption to soften the doctrine of the decrees. God is represented as having arbitrarily created one group of people for paradise and another group for hell, and the events of every person's life are so ordered that little place is left for moral responsibility and guilt. They deny that there has been any election in Christ to grace and glory, and that Christ died a sacrificial death for his people. They have nothing to say about the efficacy of saving grace or about perseverance, and even in regard to the predestination of temporal events the ideas are often gross and confused. The attribute of love is absent from Allah. The ideas that God should love us or that we should love God are strange ideas to Islam, and the Koran hardly hints at this subject of which the Bible is so full.
In conclusion it may be said that the Arminian creed has little appeal for the Mohammedan. So far as mission work is concerned, the Calvinistic churches entered the world of Islam earlier and more vigorously than any other group of churches, and for more than one hundred years they and they alone have challenged Islam in the land of its birth. They have occupied the strategic centers and today are carrying on far the larger part of the mission work in the Moslem world. With God's sovereignty as basis, God's glory as goal, and God's will as motive, the Presbyterian and Reformed churches are peculiarly fitted to win Moslem hearts to the allegiance of Christ, and are facing, with bright hopes of success, that most difficult of all missionary tasks, the evangelization of the Moslem world.
1. Calvinism, p. 38.
2. Article, Calvinism and the World of Islam.
3. Salisbury, article, Mohammedan Doctrine of Predestination and Free Will.
4. Moslem Doctrine of God, p. 97.