Is Islam accurate to blame Christians for Priest-Worship?


Question Mark

Introduction

Notwithstanding the complexities of “Trinity”, certain forms of Christianity (1.) have always assumed itself to be monotheistic! Islam disqualified the claims of Christianity as being strictly monotheistic. Deification of Jesus (peace be upon him) – one of the more obvious breach in monotheism for Islam – was not the only reason for Islam to reject Christianity as precisely monotheistic. Islam went beyond the boundaries ofobvious acts of polytheism. It included much finer nuances. Precisely, Islam impeached Christianity for following their priests, anchorites and presbyters and claimed that by doing so the Christians worship them.

In this paper we intend to look at this issue in some detail. Was Islam accurate to claim that Christians worship their church orders? Or did Islam misrepresent an otherwise “monotheistic” religion?

“They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords”

 

Qur’an claimed that the Christians (not merely Roman Catholics) worship their priests and other presbyters:

They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One Allah: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him). (Qur’an 9:31, Yusuf Ali’s Quran Translation)

 

When the above verse was read in to Adi Ibn Hatim, a newly convert from Christianity and a companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) he exclaimed as if it was a misrepresentation of his former abandoned belief. He clarified that they did not used to worship their church elders: “Surely we did not worship them

Upon this remark the Prophet (peace be upon him) answered him that by overruling the commands of God to the words of Priests they used to worship them:

Did they not make forbidden (haram) what Allah had made allowable (halal) and you all made it haram, and did they not make halal what Allah made (haram) and you all made it halal?” He replied, “We certainly did.” The Prophet then said, “That was how you worshipped them.” (Collected by Tirmidhi, as cited in Fundamentals of Tawheed, Dr. Bilal Philips. p. 40)

On the foregoing, Dr. Bilal cites examples how Christian priests have overruled divine laws of God and instituted them for their laity:

Lawful made unlawful:

“Christian clergy made haram the marrying of more than one wife and the marrying of first cousins. Roman Catholicism forbade priests from marrying and forbade divorce in general.” (Dr. Bilal Philips, Fundamentals of Tawheed, Footnote no. 33, p. 40)

And, Unlawful made Lawful:

“The Christian Church made halal the consumption of pork, blood and alcohol. Some of them also made allowable painting and statues depicting God as a man. (Dr. Bilal Philips, Fundamentals of Tawheed, Footnote no. 34, p. 40)

It is not too perplex to understand the appeal of Islam. If mere mortals, the priests, had the privilege to overrule the divine laws instituted by God Himself then they rise to a status at par with Him. Now there voice becomes one with the voice of God; their rivaling injunctions become the divine rules for the laity. This phenomenon of distorted faith naturally ends up deifying priests.

Sadly, Christianity does not recognize it as a problem, let alone, most heinous one. On the contrary they profess this malpractice thereby bolstering Qur’an and its Prophet (peace be upon him) for their precise representation of their faith.

Consider, for example, some of the writings of famous and one of the earliest (latefirst century), orthodox, Church Father Ignatius of Antioch:

“You should do nothing apart from the bishop” (Ign. Magn. 7.1)

“Be subject to the bishop as to the commandment” (Ign. Trall. 13.2)

We are clearly obliged to look upon the bishop as the Lord himself” (Ign. Eph. 6.1)

Notice that orthodox Christians (including Protestants) were not given any leeway for their own perspective; they just had no voice of their own unless they complied with the “Bishop” – the successors of the disciples themselves! They can “do nothingapart from the bishop” (2.). This claim in itself has overtones of absolute sovereigntybestowed upon the “Bishop”No wonder Ignatius goes on to assert that the utterances of the “Bishops” was just like – “as” – divine, holy and inspired as the Mosaic commandments themselves!

Logically, it does not come very appalling that Ignatius – the prototype of the “monotheist”, orthodox Christians – exhorted that the “Bishops”, the mere mortals that they were, were to be looked upon as “Lord himself”!

On the preceding, New Testament authority Bart Ehrman rightly asserts the following:

Each Christian community had a bishop, and this bishop’s word was LAW [Mosaic]The bishop was to be followed as if he were God himself. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p.141)

[Side Remark: At this point, we strongly recommend our earlier articles on the same topic,

What is even embarrassing, Ignatius believed that he was divinely inspired for his otherwise idolatrous comments:

For even if some people have wanted to deceive me according to the flesh, the Spirit is not deceived, since it comes from God. For it knows whence it comes and where it is going, and it exposes the things that are hidden. I cried out while among you, speaking in a great voice, the voice of God, “Pay attention to the bishop and the presbytery and the deacons!” But some suspected that I said these things because I knew in advance that there was a division among you.But the one in whom I am bound is my witness that I knew it from no human source; but the Spirit was preaching, saying: “Do nothing apart from the bishop; keep your flesh as the Temple of God; love unity; flee divisions; be imitators of Jesus Christ as he is of his Father.” (Ign. Phil., 7)

Ignatius, an Orthodox Church father, contemporary to the gospel(s) themselves, had no scruples in asserting that it was “God” – the Holy “Ghost” – himself who inspired him to preach Bishops at par with the Triune gods and their “preaching”.

This compels us to think: At best every ecclesiastical structure has at least one supreme Bishop. And there are numerous such church bodies around the world. We can only imagine how many Lord-Himselves and God-Himselves roam around us!! So much for orthodox Christianity being a “monotheistic” religion!

Once Christian “believers” were made to believe that the heads of their churches had divine authority, if not God “himself”, it was not hard that they blindly follow their “commandments” without questioning its otherwise negative theological and sociological implications. The presbyters were now easily at a position to enjoy the meek “services” of the complying laity and to impose on them “commandments” motivated with particular biases at times even contradicting the so-called “scriptures”. Now any “commandment” coming out of the very mouth of God-Themselves-Bishops had to be divine enough to be accepted by laity even though they might contradict the written “scriptures”. All of this was enough a ground for the strictest form of Monotheism – Islam – to question Christians for their Bishop worship(Bishopology?).

What Inspired Ignatius?

 

One pressing question still needs to be addressed: from where was Ignatius getting his teachings? What was the basis of his otherwise flagrantly idolatrous preaching? Well, it’s not too difficult to decipher! Ignatius postdated merely 60 odd years to Paul, around contemporary to the penning of gospel of John! As such he was drawing all of his teachings, but naturally, from Paul himself.

Moreover, being an “orthodox” Christian he had to derive his theological niceties from none other but Paul. Thus it would be interesting to note the perceptions Paul had about himself on one hand and the status and words of God – Almighty on the other:

The Old Testament Laws were directly breathed by God Himself:

Obey my laws and do what I command. I am the LORD your God. Follow the practices and the laws that I give you; you will save your life by doing so. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18: 4-5)

“And so I led them out of Egypt into the desert. I gave them my commands and taught them my laws, which brings life to anyone who obeys them.” (Ezekiel 20:11)

Being “God-breathed”, the Laws were very beneficial:

Happy are those whose lives are faultless, who live according to the law of the LORDHappy are those who follow his commands, who obey him with all their heartThey never do wrong; they walk in the LORD’S ways. LORD, you have given us your laws and told us to obey them faithfully.How I hope that I shall be faithful in keeping your instructions! If I pay attention to all your command then I will not be put to shame. As I learn your righteous judgments, I will praise you with a pure heart. I will obey your laws; never abandon me!” (Psalms 119:1-8)

Such a man obeys my commands and carefully keeps my lawsHe is righteous, and he will live,” Says the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 18: 9)

As such they were held in high esteem by its observers:

“But your (God’s) people rebelled and disobeyed you; they turned their backs on your Law…In your great mercy you sent them leaders who rescued them from their foes. When peace returned, they sinned again, and again you let their enemies conquer them. Yet when they repented and asked to save them, in heaven you heard, and time after time you rescued them in your great mercy. You warned them to obey your teachings, but in pride they rejected your laws, although keeping your Law is the way of life. Obstinate and stubborn, they refused to obey.” (Nehemiah 9:26-29)

No wonder Jesus (peace be upon him) – the Jewish Rabbi – not just endorsed the blessed providences of the Laws but even stipulated its obedience until judgment day:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, andshall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven:but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:17-19, King James Version)

Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus (peace be upon him) also paved the path to success through the Laws:

“A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’” You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)

Even after so much stress on the observance of the Laws, Paul had no qualms in liquidating it categorically after all the Old Testament prophets and Jesus (peace be upon him) had left this world.

He devised, contradicting Jesus (peace be upon him), that Laws were meant for a limited time period and with the alleged death of Jesus (peace be upon him), Laws must be rendered oblivion:

That is how it is with you, my friends. As far as the Law is concerned, you also have died because you are part of the body of Christ; and now you belong to him who was raised from death in order that we might be useful in the service of God. (Romans 7:4)

Now, however, we are free from the Law, because we died to that which once held us prisoners. No longer do we serve in the old way of a written law, but in the new way of the Spirit. (Romans 7:6)

If the Spirit leads you, then you are not subject to the Law. (Galatians 5:18)

Paul unequivocally falsified Jesus (peace be upon him) and even attributed a lie on him by claiming that he abolished the Laws:

 

He [Christ] abolished the Jewish Law with its commandments and rules, in order to create out of the two races one new people in union with himself, in this way making peace. (Ephesians 2:15)

We can see how what was ordained lawful (halal) by Old Testament God, was made unlawful (haram) by mere man – Paul and Christians follow him, by doing so they ought to worship him.

As if it was not merely enough to nullify the Laws, much to the disliking of all Jews including Jesus (peace be upon him), Paul portrayed it in utterly belittling light:

“Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15: 56-57)

“For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.” (Romans 4:14-15)

Paul even considered God-breathed Laws to be the very reason why his innocent self knew sin; apart from the Laws, sin was dead in him:

If the Law not said, “Do not desire what belongs to someone else,” I wouldnot have known such a desire. But by means of that commandment sin found its chance to stir up all kinds of selfish desires in me. Apart from law, sin is a dead thing.” (Romans 7:7-8)

By claiming what he claimed, Paul elevated himself to a station from where he could trump God of OT for his otherwise holy and beneficial Laws, let alone, sin provoking.

Conclusion

 

Thus we see how Paul, through the above writings (divine?), was laying a incredibly maverick path for his successors. He showed them how to trump the otherwise “divine” Laws revered by numerous prophets including their lord and savior Jesus (peace be upon him).

Thus, if Paul – the self claimed head (Bishop!) of the Gentile church, could defy the “inspired” Laws of the Old Testament, acting at par with God, then, by the same token, Ignatius, his immediate successor, had all the good grounds to claim that “Bishops” – the heads of Churches, should be considered as “Lord Himself” and his mere fleeting words as God’s commandments at odds with it! However, this exactly is associating partners with God in His divinity (Polytheism) and Islam for a millennium and more had been vehemently opposing it.

At this point, we would like to revisit the Qur’anic verse and the Prophetic (peace be upon him) explanation for one last time:

They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One Allah: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him). (Qur’an 9:31, Yusuf Ali’s Quran Translation)

And Prophet (peace be upon him) explained the above Qur’anic verse as follows:

“Did they note make forbidden (haram) what Allah had made allowable (halal) and you all made it haram, and did they not make halal what Allah made (haram) and you all made it halal?” He replied, “We certainly did.” The Prophet then said, “That was how you worshipped them.” (Collected by Tirmidhi, as cited in Fundamentals of Tawheed, Dr. Bilal Philips. P. 40)

Notes:

  • All Qur’anic text unless otherwise mentioned taken from Yusuf Ali’s Translation.
  • All biblical text unless otherwise mentioned taken from Good News Edition.
  • Emphasize wherever not matching with original, is ours.

Footnotes:

(1.) There have been various forms of Christianity and not all of them were “monotheistic” per say. For example, the Marcionites, the second century Christian group, harbored the belief in two gods – the God of Jesus (peace be upon him) and the God of the Old Testament. Moreover, certain Gnostic Christian faiths harbored complex hierarchy of “divine” entities originating from God called aeons.

(2.)  Contrary to the specific Christian tradition, Islam gave Muslims the right to even question the rightly guided caliphs – as early as second caliph:

One day Caliph Umar during the course of his sermon to the people, said: “If any one marries and fixes a mehr (dowry) for more than 400 dirhams for his wife, I will inflict the prescribed punishment on him and will deposit the excess amount in the Baitu’l-Mal (Public Treasury).”

woman from the audience called out: “Umar! Is what you say more acceptable or Allah’s ordinance? Does not Allah Almighty say: ‘And if you wish to have (one) wife in place of another and you have given one of them a heap of gold, then take not from it anything.’” (4:20)

Having heard this verse and the retort of the woman, Umar said: “You have better knowledge of fiqh and problems than Umar, all of you, including even the women observing purdah sitting in their homes.

Then Umar again mounted the pulpit and said: “Although I have forbidden you to give more than 400 dirhams as dowry to your wives, I now permit you to give as much as you like beyond the appointed limit. There is no harm in it.” (Umar Ibn Khattab, May Allah (SWT) be pleased with him. Except for the citation we do not necessarily accept other theological interpretation of this website.)

3 comments

  • Ignatius is saying that they represent God and are to be respected as they have divinely appointed authority, not that they are of themselves divine

  • I have a challenge for you if we truly worship priests as gods please show me one instance of priests being called divine not divinely appointed and where it explicitly states we should worship them as gods alongside the trinity? Show me this in either the catechism or the writings of a church father

  • The Trinity IS God, not separate entities. It is a difficult concept for us to understand in finity as we are, but the Spirit and JC are parts and agents of God but also God himself(hence why he is called the Triune God). As for worshipping Priests, they are the mortal agents of God, given divinity and command by JC himself, passed through Apostolic Succession through the ages. If there is a case of idolic worship of priests, it is a failing of the individual or the priest in the teaching of worship. It is the responsibility of the Christian(and those of all faiths following the One God) to avert heresy and idolatry and worship God alone in their heart of hearts, even as they appreciate the divinity granted to their shepherds the priests.

    This is my understanding of it, weak as it may be. I pray I will be corrected if my interpretation does not please God and his Word.

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