The Qur’an is a very stern and strict Scripture with an emphasis on justice. It offers guidance concerning how to live in a way that pleases God. Every word of the Qur’an is believed by Muslims to be divine revelation, written on a preserved tablet (in the original Arabic). The fact that so many of the surahs in the Qur’an mention paradise and hell (both are described in some detail) makes the text feel urgent and serious.
Over the last few months I prayed very often to God about whether I should convert to Islam. While prostrating myself in prayer, I said to God that I am willing to join a Muslim community and commit to Muslim rituals, if this would please Him. Much to my surprise, God always said to me that joining in with the rituals and requirements of Islam was not part of my calling. I was confused by this because of the power of the revelation and how it seemed to offer true divine guidance on every page.
This morning, I was listening to Surah 4 (titled ‘Women’) and was struck very powerfully by the following statement:
God does not forgive the worship of others beside Him — though He does forgive whoever He will for lesser sins — for whoever does this has gone far, far astray.Surah 4:116
It’s difficult to overstate how profoundly reading this verse this morning affected me. When I was a practicing evangelical Christian, I would pray to Jesus all the time, and dedicate a large portion of my Sundays to worshiping Jesus. The verse quoted above suggests that God will not forgive this.
The reason why I took this verse very seriously is because in the Qur’an it is emphasised that the Scripture is a perfect revelation from God:
Those who reject the Qur’an when it comes to them—though it is an unassailable Scripture which falsehood cannot touch from any angle, a Revelation sent down from one decisive, worthy of all praise— [should remember that] you [Prophet] are not told anything that the previous messengers were not told: your Lord is a Lord of forgiveness, but also of painful punishment.Surah 41:41-43
If the Qur’an is a perfect revelation from God, and God does not forgive the worship of others besides Him, this would seem to mean that God will not forgive the worship of Jesus. Remember, in Islam Jesus is a prophet — a mortal and not divine. If God will not forgive the worship of Jesus, this means He will not forgive me, my father (who is a Christian) or any of my Christian friends, or indeed Christian followers of this blog, or the millions of Christians who have died after worshiping Jesus. Does Surah 4:116 infer that all Christians who have ever worshiped Jesus will be sentenced to hell?
My reaction, when I was considering all of this today, was one of resignation. It would seem that according to Islam, I am lost. The Qur’an repeatedly emphasises that God is forgiving and merciful, and I have repented for worshiping Jesus, but the words of Surah 4:116 seem to make me guilty of a sin that God will not forgive. In other places in the Qur’an it says that God is always ready to accept repentance and is the ever-relenting, most merciful. But is it possible to reconcile these aspects of God’s character with Surah 4:116?
Because I believe that God is in control of everything that happens, it saddens me deeply that God would make me praise and worship Jesus at one stage in my life and then potentially send me to hell for doing so after embracing the Qur’an later in life, even though I try to live in sincere dedication to Him.
Reading that one verse from Surah 116 this morning completely transformed the way I personally relate to Islam. Of course, God does whatever He will, and if He chooses to send me to hell based on the fact that He previously made me worship Jesus as God, there is nothing I can do about it. I am a puppet in God’s hands. Muslims would say that God guides whoever He will to the truth and leaves to stray whoever He will. He is described in the Qur’an as ‘the controller’, and it is my own view that God is in control of the unfolding of all events, including all human thoughts, words, and actions.
But I refuse to believe God is a monster. Christians are generally well-meaning people, and many who believe in the divinity of Jesus dedicate their lives to charitable deeds. Being charitable is important in Islam, so will God not forgive those Christians who strive to be good people and love their neighbour, in the way we find taught in the New Testament? Not according to Surah 4:116. The verse, if it is an accurate translation from Arabic, and is the truth about God’s will, is heartbreaking.
Please allow me to not be too conclusive and leave the thoughts I have shared in this article open to discussion. To my Christian readers, and especially to my Muslim readers, I’d love to know your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment in response to what I have written here, because there might be some kind of misunderstanding on my part. If nothing else, this is an important matter for interfaith dialogue. If you do choose to comment, please do so in a respectful way. Thank you for reading.