Excerpt from Letter to a Friend dated August, 2000
Discussion of Islam – Impossibility of Salvation by Works &
Reasoning from Quran with Quran Excerpts
Compared with Excerpts from Bible
Thanks for lunch the other day. Let’s get together again for lunch
next time you get a chance in Richmond. I enjoyed catching up with you
after such a long period and appreciated hearing your account of your
spiritual journey. So many people are simply caught up by materialism,
life’s fast pace, etc., and fail to pursue the spiritual–you have
Since our thought provoking conversation, I have done a little
I understand that Islam has as many branches and sects as
Christianity. The two major ones are the Sunnis and the Shias.
They split over the issue of apostolic succession. When Islam’s founder
Muhammad died unexpectedly in A.D. 632, he had left no arrangement for a
successor. His followers divided into two camps. The Sunnis were those
who thought the leader should be elected democratically from among his
closest followers, and the Shias were those who thought the leaders
should be related to Muhammad. Perhaps 85 to 90 percent of all Muslims
would call themselves Sunnis.
My recollection from our conversation was that you are a Sunni. The
word Sunni comes from the Arabic Sunnah, which simply means
"the trodden path," or "tradition." In the Islamic
context, it means someone who follows the exemplary pattern of conduct
established by Muhammad, believed to be the model for all humankind.
Since Muhammad was just one solitary man, confined to a slice of time in
seventh century Arabia, he could not foresee the problems Islam would
face in its rapid expansion into other lands. His followers ——
who were imbued with Muhammad’s passion for law ——
had to devise new laws based on their understanding of what Muhammad
would have done, if he had remained among them. This process took almost
two hundred years and resulted in the formation of Islamic or Shariah
Law. A Sunni, then, is a person who believes that the true way of life
is to attempt to keep the laws of Islam (Shariah) derived from
the Quran and the other collected sayings of Muhammad. For this person,
paradise is the reward of those whose good deeds outweigh their bad on
the day of judgment. I believe that this is in keeping with what you
explained to me.
Muhammad, in his determination to discover and execute the will of
God, set in motion a movement that resulted in the proliferation of laws
attempting to cover every facet of life.
This idea that God would weigh our good deeds against our bad deeds
in a balance scale on the day of judgment is as ancient as Egyptian
culture and is shared with minor variations by many including those
holding to Judaism and with many who fill the pews of Churches
But can the law save or does it simply condemn? As you and I
discussed the case of the elderly speeder–while we admired his good
driving record, ultimately that record does nothing to erase the
infraction which brings him before the court. So too I commend your zeal
to keep the law of God as you understand it, however I ask again doesn’t
that very law ultimately condemn both of us.
One of the Christian apostles, Paul wrote "the letter [law]
kills, but the Spirit gives life" (1
Cor. 3:6). Before Christ
appeared to him, he persecuted Christians as a blasphemous Jewish sect
who did not hold to Judaism’s teaching that required complete
obedience to the written and oral laws and teachings of Moses.
Is 51 percent performance good enough to obtain salvation? What about
99.9 percent? We both know that God is holy–how could we conceive of
offering to a holy God a glass which is filled with anything other than
100 percent perfection–a commodity that we simply do not have. The
pollution of violating one of the least of the laws pollutes the entire
The Christian "Gospel" or "Good News" is that
God, who is righteous and holy, gives us His righteousness through faith
in Jesus the "Messiah" or "Christ." In other
words, God gives to us what we were incapable of providing
ourselves–100% holiness. We could never be good enough to satisfy
God’s demand for holiness. We cannot by obedience or even
submission attain 100% holiness. Instead of climbing to God, He
has come down to lift us up to be with Him, and in that new found
position we are called to perform good deeds (not to attain salvation
but having been awakened spiritually that is our calling). (Ephesians
The Christian writer James wrote: "For whoever keeps the whole
law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of
2:10). To this could be added Paul’s words in Romans
3:20, "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by
observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of
sin," and in Galatians
3:24, "The law was put in charge to
lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith" (Gal.
In Quran 7:158, Muhammad asked
people to follow Jesus. Elsewhere in the Quran, Muhammad testified that
Jesus was among those nearest to God, held in honor in this world and
the hereafter (Quran 3:45). It is my
understanding that Muslims understand this to mean that Jesus was
sinless and all-righteous, something that the early Muslims never
claimed for Muhammad. In fact, in several Quranic passages (16:61; 40:55;
42:5, 30; 47:19; 48:1-2) we read that Muhammad was exhorted to seek
forgiveness for his faults, that not a single living creature would be
left on earth if God punished everyone for their wrongdoing, and that
one of Muhammad’s military victories served as an assurance of
forgiveness of his sins, past and future.
Did you visit Muhammad’s grave in Medina? Where does the Quran teach
that Jesus’ grave is located? Doesn’t it teach that Jesus Christ is
alive in heaven with God? In the Quran (2:253; 3:45-49;
4:158-176, 5:46-48; 19:33; 89:22-30) Jesus was
called the Messiah; He was born of a virgin; He was among the righteous
ones —— those nearest to God; He received
strength from the Holy Spirit; He could give sight to the blind, cure
lepers, and raise the dead; He prophesied His own death and
resurrection; He was called a Word from God and a Spirit from God; and
finally, He is coming back with thousands of angels to judge the world.
All these characterizations add up to a powerful picture of a Christ who
was more than a prophet, and —— on Quranic
terms alone. In John
1:1-14, Jesus is portrayed as the eternal Word of
God. According to the Scriptures the purpose of God for Him in becoming
a man was to carry out the will of God in accomplishing the salvation of
lost humankind, who could not be saved by the law, either Islamic or
The Quran bears surprising witness to Jesus. It affirms His virgin
birth, His ability to heal and raise the dead, that He is both a word
from God and a spirit from God, that He is the Messiah, an all-righteous
one (sinless), among those nearest to God, that He is alive in heaven
now and will return to judge the earth (Quran 3:45,
49; 4:158; 89:22). In a careful reading of Quranic references
(3:83-84; 5:46-47; 10:37, 64, 94;
46:12), it appears that Muhammad
affirmed his belief in what was revealed to Moses and Jesus. He taught
that God confirms and guards all previous scripture, that Christians are
to stand fast on their own books of the Law and the Gospel, and that
none could change the Word of God.
Finally, the Muslim is told that if he has doubts he should ask the
Jews and Christians, who were reading the Holy Books before he was. We
discussed the issue of the nature of God. God is one. Could it be that
within that inseparable one, that distinct aspects of God appear in ways
that are inconceivable to us–for as God is far greater than us we
could not possible understand fully his nature.
As for the Shias, the Shias felt the leader should come from
Muhammad’s family while the Sunnis thought he should be someone of noted
piety elected by and from Muhammad’s closest companions. The Sunnis won
with the first three successors; then the Shias, or party of Ali,
assumed the leadership. But Ali was martyred, as were his only two sons.
Down through the centuries, the Shias usually lost out in these power
struggles. This led to their taking on the nature of a protest movement
against the corrupt Sunni leaders. Inevitably, to justify their separate
minority identity, they developed theological doctrines that radically
differed from those of the Sunnis on at least two major points: the idea
of martyrdom and the idea of divine light indwelling their leaders.
Martyrdom for the cause of the people is memorialized in the Shia
calendar year during their lunar month of Muharram. Of the three martyrs
mentioned above —— Ali (Muhammad’s cousin
and son-in-law) and Ali’s two sons, Hasan and Husayn (Muhammad’s
grandsons) —— that of Husayn is celebrated
annually. The first ten days of the month of Muharram are dedicated to
"passion plays" that retell the story of Husayn’s betrayal and
courageous stand, facing overwhelming odds, against the ruling house of
Mecca (the Umayyids). On the tenth day, it is common for parades of
self-flagellating men to beat themselves until the blood flows,
lamenting the failure of the people to come to the defense of their
beloved leader. Shias believe that the shed blood of their slain leader
atones for their sins.
Shias believe that there was "divine light" indwelling
Muhammad, Ali, Husayn, the early "Imams," and currently, the
present leading Ayatullah, whoever that may be. (In Sunni Islam, an Imam
is a leader of the prayers at the mosque. It could be anyone. In Shia
Islam, the Imam is a big word. It refers to the succession of the
spiritual leaders of the community.) Depending on which branch of Shia
Islam one is talking about, that line of succession terminated with the
disappearance of either the fifth, the seventh, or the twelfth Imam.
These lines came to an end centuries ago. Each was indwelt by divine
light. This light was then passed on to a lesser order of clerics called
"Ayatullahs." This word means "Sign or Miracle of
God." (eg., the late Ayatullah Khomeini). It was Jesus who first
said, "I am the light of the world" (John
8:12). Behind this
is the idea of pure light coming through a sinless servant of God. It
seems that the problem for Shias is that they are forced by their own
set of assumptions to attribute sinlessness to their present-day
Ayatullahs. But not even Muhammad claimed this attribute for himself.
The Quran exhorts Muhammad (and others, too) to seek forgiveness of his
sins (Q. 40:53-55; 42:5; 47:19). The
universality of sin is mentioned in Quran 16:61. The Quran also says
that whatever misfortune happens to a Muslim happens because of his sin
(Q. 42:30). It further says that even when victory comes it occurs so
that God may forgive one’s sins (Q. 48:1, 2). From these verses, we see
that no one is sinless but God alone or capable of being the "Light
of the World."
An exception taught by the Quran is Jesus. In the Quran, we read that
he is "among the righteous ones," that is, sinless (Q.
3:46). Could it be that Jesus is "the holy Son of God" (Matt. 1:20,
1:32); that He was indeed sinless (2
that in Jesus is true spiritual life and this life is the true light of
1:4); and, finally, that Jesus Himself claimed to be the Light
of the world (John 8:12) and it is in His light that we see light
1:9)? Will you continue to struggle to climb through good
deeds hoping that this will somehow erase your faults. I implore
you to accept the benevolence of God who offers to give to you His
righteousness through his faithful Servant, the Righteous One, Jesus the
# # #
Thomas H. Roberts, Esq.
Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
Virginia Civil Rights Attorneys
105 S. 1st Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Translation of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali)
Section 20: Divine Favours on Israelites:
7:158. Say: O
mankind, surely I am the Messenger of Allah to you all, of Him, Whose is
the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. There is no god but He; He
gives life and causes death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the Ummi
Prophet who believes in Allah and His words, and follow him so that you
may be guided aright.
3:45. When the angels said: O Mary, surely
Allah gives thee good news with a word from Him (of one) whose name is
the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, worthy of regard in this world and the
Hereafter, and of those who are drawn nigh (to Allah),
46. And he will speak to the people when in the cradle and when of
old age, and (he will be) of the good ones.
47. She said: My Lord, how can I have a son and man has not yet
touched me? He said: Even so; Allah creates what He pleases. When He
decrees a matter, He only says to it, Be, and it is.
48. And He will teach him the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and
49. And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): I
have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you
out of dust the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a
bird with Allah’’s permission, and I heal the blind and the leprous,
and bring the dead to life with Allah’’s permission; and I inform
you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses.
Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers.
50. And (I am) a verifier of that which is before me of the Torah,
and I allow you part of that which was forbidden to you; and I have come
to you with a sign from your Lord, so keep your duty to Allah and obey
2:253. We have made
some of these messengers to excel others. Among them are they to whom
Allah spoke, and some of them He exalted by (many) degrees of rank. And
We gave clear arguments to Jesus son of Mary, and strengthened him with
the Holy Spirit. And if Allah had pleased, those after them would not
have fought one with another after clear arguments had come to them, but
they disagreed; so some of them believed and some of them denied. And if
Allah had pleased they would not have fought one with another, but Allah
does what He intends.
4:155. Then for their breaking their covenant and
their disbelief in the messages of Allah and their killing the prophets
wrongfully and their saying, Our hearts are covered; nay, Allah has
sealed them owing to their disbelief, so they believe not but a little:
156. And for their disbelief and for their uttering against Mary a
157. And for their saying: We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of
Mary, the messenger of Allah, and they killed him not, nor did they
cause his death on the cross, but he was made to appear to them as such.
And certainly those who differ therein are in doubt about it. They have
no knowledge about it, but only follow a conjecture, and they killed him
not for certain:
158. Nay, Allah exalted him in His presence. And Allah is ever
159. And there is none of the People of the Book but will believe in
this before his death; and on the day of Resurrection he will be a
witness against them.
160. So for the iniquity of the Jews, We forbade them the good things
which had been made lawful for them, and for their hindering many
(people) from Allah’’s way.
161. And for their taking usury –– though indeed they were
forbidden it –– and their devouring the property of people falsely.
And We have prepared for the disbelievers from among them a painful
162. But the firm in knowledge among them and the believers believe
in that which has been revealed to thee and that which was revealed
before thee, and those who keep up prayer and give the poor-rate and the
believers in Allah and the Last Day –– these it is to whom We shall
give a mighty reward.
Section 23: Previous Revelation
Bears out Qur’’anic Statements:
163. Surely We have revealed to
thee as We revealed to Noah and the prophets after him, and We revealed
to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and Jesus and
Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and We gave to David a scripture.
164. And (we sent) messengers We have mentioned to thee before and
messengers We have not mentioned to thee. And to Moses Allah addressed
His word, speaking (to him) ––
165. Messengers, bearers of good news and warners, so that the people
may have no plea against Allah after the (coming of) messengers. And
Allah is ever Mighty, Wise.
166. But Allah bears witness by that which He has revealed to thee
that He has revealed it with His knowledge, and the angels (also) bear
witness. And Allah is sufficient as a witness.
167. Those who disbelieve and hinder (others) from Allah’’s way,
they indeed have erred, going far astray.
168. Those who disbelieve and act unjustly, Allah will never forgive
them, nor guide them to a path,
169. Except the path of hell, to abide in it for a long time. And
that is easy to Allah.
170. O mankind, the Messenger has indeed come to you with truth from
your Lord, so believe, it is better for you. And if you disbelieve, then
surely to Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. And
Allah is ever Knowing, Wise.
171. O People of the Book, exceed not the limits in your religion nor
speak anything about Allah, but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of
Mary, is only a messenger of Allah and His word which He communicated to
Mary and a mercy from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And
say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you. Allah is only one God. Far
be it from His glory to have a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the
heavens and whatever is in the earth. And sufficient is Allah as having
charge of affairs.
Prophethood of Jesus:
172. The Messiah disdains not to
be a servant of Allah, nor do the angels who are near to Him. And
whoever disdains His service and is proud, He will gather them all
together to Himself.
173. Then as for those who believe and do good, He will pay them
fully their rewards and give them more out of His grace. And as for
those who disdain and are proud, He will chastise them with a painful
chastisement, and they will find for themselves besides Allah no friend
174. O people, manifest proof has indeed come to you from your Lord
and We have sent down to you a clear light.
175. Then as for those who believe in Allah and hold fast by Him, He
will admit them to His mercy and grace, and guide them to Himself on a
176. They ask thee for a decision. Say: Allah gives you a decision
concerning the person who has neither parents nor children. If a man
dies (and) he has no son and he has a sister, hers is half of what he
leaves, and he shall be her heir if she has no son. But if there be two
(sisters), they shall have two-thirds of what he leaves. And if there
are brethren, men and women, then for the male is the like of the
portion of two females. Allah makes clear to you, lest you err. And
Allah is Knower of all things.
5:46. And We sent after them in their footsteps
Jesus, son of Mary, verifying that which was before him of the Torah;
and We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light, and verifying
that which was before it of the Torah, and a guidance and an admonition
for the dutiful.
47. And let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah has
revealed in it. And whoever judges not by what Allah has revealed, those
are the transgressors.
48. And We have revealed to thee the Book with the truth, verifying
that which is before it of the Book and a guardian over it, so judge
between them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their low
desires (turning away) from the truth that has come to thee. For every
one of you We appointed a law and a way. And if Allah had pleased He
would have made you a single people, but that He might try you in what
He gave you. So vie one with another in virtuous deeds. To Allah you
will all return, so He will inform you of that wherein you differed;
23.And hell is made to appear that
day. On that day man will be mindful, and of what use will being mindful
24.He will say : O would that I
had sent before for (this) my life!
25.But none can punish as He will
punish on that day.
26.And none can bind as He will
bind on that day.
27.O soul that art at rest,
28.Return to thy Lord,
29.So enter among My servants,
30.And enter My Garden!
84. Say: We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us, and
that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and
the tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and to the
prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them,
and to Him we submit.
5:46. And We
sent after them in their footsteps Jesus, son of Mary, verifying that
which was before him of the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel containing
guidance and light, and verifying that which was before it of the Torah,
and a guidance and an admonition for the dutiful.
47. And let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah has
revealed in it. And whoever judges not by what Allah has revealed, those
are the transgressors.
54. A guidance and a reminder for men of understanding.
55. So be patient; surely the promise of Allah is true; and ask
protection for thy sin and celebrate the praise of thy Lord in the
evening and the morning.
|But God, who is rich in
mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
|Even when we were dead in
sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are
|And hath raised [us] up
together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in
|That in the ages to come he
might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness
toward us through Christ Jesus.
|For by grace are ye saved
through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of
|Not of works, lest any man
|For we are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before
ordained that we should walk in them.