During my stay at ISNA headquarters in Plainfield, I was granted the opportunity to read through Grace Halsell’s startling book ‘Forcing God’s Hand’, Crossroads International Publishing, Washington DC, 1999.
The effect upon me was to leave me in a state of some shock - for what was being presented in these pages as an increasingly common form of Christianity in the USA had virtually nothing to do with the Christianity I had grown up with and studied as a university student reading Christian Theology. I managed to graduate in that field, with my main interest being Trinitarian Studies and Doctrine, in 1963. I am also English, and I should imagine from what I read that the kind of Christian background we have in the UK is very different from that in the USA, if we can assume that Grace Halsell has presented her case fairly.
According to Dale Crowley Jr, a Washington religious broadcaster whom she quotes, “There’s a new religious cult in America. It’s not composed of so-called ‘crazies’ so much as mainstream, middle to upper-middle class Americans. They listen - and give millions of dollars each week - to the TV evangelists who expound the fundamentals of the cult. They read Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. They have one goal: to facilitate God’s hand to waft them up to heaven free from all trouble, from where they will watch Armageddon and the destruction of Planet Earth. This doctrine pervades Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, and other charismatic churches, as well as Southern Baptist, Independent Baptist, and countless so-called Bible churches and mega-churches. At least one out of every ten Americans is a devotee of this cult. It is the fastest growing religious movement in Christianity today.”
It comes as a great shock to me, for when I read the accounts of their major tenets and beliefs, it really just seemed like a great deal of nonsense. It had virtually no point of contact whatsoever with the church teaching, mission work and theology with which I have been involved one way or another for over fifty years, firstly as a Christian theologian myself, and then as a Muslim.
I give just one quote from Hal Lindsey’s ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ to give a flavour of what I am talking about:
‘Think of it! At least 200 million soldiers from the orient, with millions more from the forces of the West…..Messiah Jesus will strike those who have ravaged His city in Jerusalem. Then He will strike the armies massed in the valley of Megiddo (or Armageddon). No wonder blood will stand to the horses’ bridles for a distance of 200 miles from Jerusalem. ...This whole valley will be filled with war materials, animals, bodies of men, and blood! It seems incredible! The human mind cannot conceive of such inhumanity of man to man, yet God will allow man’s nature to fully display itself that day. Every city of the world will be destroyed - London, Paris, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago - obliterated!’
Bible references are sifted for prophecies of a future world-wide nuclear war. The Antichrist due to come before all this has been ‘recognized’ already, many times, in such people as Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Milosovic. There is presumably another ‘Beast’ to come.
Some of this may sound familiar to Muslims who have considered how the end of the world will come, with the prophecies of the Dajjal and so forth.
However, ‘born-again’ Christians will have the good fortune to escape all the suffering of nuclear holocaust, because God will cause them to be taken up alive into the heavens before all this takes place, where they will have a grandstand view of everyone else being destroyed. Christ will descend and ‘snatch away’ his true followers. This belief is not actually any part of the teachings of Jesus, but is based on a couple of verses of St Paul’s, namely, First Thessalonians 4:16-17.
This, naturally, is the great appeal of the entire notion. ‘It’s wonderful to know,’ said one of Grace Halwell’s interviewees, ‘that those of us who are Saved do not have to suffer one moment of agony in the final days.’
It results in a great deal of religious and spiritual blackmail. Those who believe in it are absolutely certain that God will mete out to most of the dead and currently alive - in fact, all who are not and were not ‘born again’ - a fearful destruction and an everlasting punishment.
There is another aspect that is extremely worrying for Muslims. One of the things that has to happen before the time of the end can come, is not only that the kingdom of Israel must be re-established, (which may refer to the setting up of the state in 1948), but also that the Temple must be rebuilt on its ancient site. This necessitates destroying the Haram ash-Sharif and the al-Aqsa mosque, of course. Until I read Grace Halsell’s book, I used to scoff in the UK at what I regarded as extra-ordinary fears and suppositions I heard from some Muslim quarters. Now, I am nowhere near so complacent.
For example, to quote Hal Lindsey again: ‘There remains but one more event to completely set the stage for Israel’s part in the last great act of her historical drama. This is to rebuild the ancient Temple of worship upon its old site.’ Not only that, but the rare red heifers are already being bred in readiness to restart the sacrificial system.
It is a strange mix, for most of these ‘born again’ so-called Christians seem to have a very hearty dislike of Jews. They are only really using them as a means to an end. Needless to say, they have an extremely hearty dislike of Muslims, who have inconveniently somehow got themselves in the way of the whole thing.
So, what is the point of my article? It is this - as we have entered the new century, many enlightened Muslims, Jews and Christians have all realized at last the most important aspect of our Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) teaching about our relationship is that we should come together as all worshipers of the same One True God, whether we name Him Jehovah (Yahweh), Our Father, or Allah. He is the same Almighty One, the same Creator, the same Compassionate and Merciful One. The Jews and Christians have all followed their revelations from this same God, through the same line of prophets as are named and accepted in the revelation of the Qur’an. Yes, we have differences of beliefs and theology - which are inevitably based on the limits of our own intellects, and faith in what has seemed reasonable to us and, these days, in accord with the principles of science. We have differences of practice and the ways we worship. But our moral code is the same, our desire to please our Lord by right and compassionate and just living is the same, our wish to follow the right path is the same. We were urged to come to accord, and concentrate on that which is common between us - for it is really scandalous that so much blood has been shed, and so much hostility engendered, between people who are all servants of the same One True God.
We must remember that our real enemy is not other people, but Shaytan, and that Shaytan is extremely clever and can come in any disguise. He is also extremely religious. Don’t forget that the original sin of Shaytan was to refuse to do what God wished him to do, because he thought he knew best. That is, better than God Himself.
When Shaytan insinuates himself into a person’s mind, whether it be to promote ignorance, or extremism, or hatred, one of the main signs is the manifestation of what Muslims call takfir - the insistence that the individual is right and is completely following the ways of God, and that all others who disagree in any detail are kafirs or unbelievers, and will be condemned to Hellfire. This is a very prominent feature of the Christian Fundamentalism Grace Halsell talks about. We Muslims have to realize, of course, that it is also a prominent feature of Islamic Fundamentalism too; I have found that a useful ‘rule of thumb’ in identifying extremism is to listen out for the word kafir or kuffar (pl), and to be aware that to these zealots the kuffar are not only ‘the West’ (whatever that means), or non-Muslims, but large numbers of Muslims too.
Similarly, these Christian Extremists do not identify other Christians as being real Christians. Only these ‘born again’ will be saved. And what is the experience of this being ‘born again?’ It is usually an emotional moment, even a trance-like state, brought about by hypnotic fiery sermons and religiously seductive music. It appeals to a certain type, and is generally a great ‘turn-off’ for more sober academics and down-to-earth people.
Muslims can easily point to similar problems with immature sufis and ignorant pretenders of spiritual excellence giving wide publicity to trance utterances and inspired pronouncements, along with their grandiloquent claims.
Thus it is a simple matter for fascinating preachers, money-grubbing pastors, hypocritical dervishes and cunning traders of religion to take full advantage of the popular relish for esoteric matters, miracles, supernatural performances, inspired dreams and prophecies. It can all too easily be seen that simple pious people can be led into accepting every new fantasy. It all appeals strongly to those who want to feel they are on the ‘inside’ of a group, with secrets, profound knowledge and revelations.
But really, they have an exceedingly narrow view of the ‘nature’ of God, or His purposes for His created Earth and the six billion people on it. Their ‘tribal’ God is only concerned with these ‘special’ Christians, and the Jews. However, the 14 million Jews now estimated to be on earth are doomed, whereas only the billion or so ‘born again’ Christians are on their way to Heaven. The other 5 billion peoples of the world are not really on God’s ‘radar screen’ at all until He calls them forth to be slain at Armageddon.
Rotten luck for us - and for all who genuinely believe in another sort of Divine Being. Direct conflict with these types is usually a waste of time and energy, so what should we do? I think, what we do best. Carry on presenting the realities of the noble faith of Islam, trying to reconcile genuine Jews and Christians with ourselves in genuine faith in God, perhaps by downplaying our differences, as the Prophet (saw) advised. We are not here to force, or bribe, or brow-beat, like these Fundamentalists. We are here to guide, to set an example, to display the sunnah in the way we live. And then leave intelligent people to think for themselves, and make their choice.