J. A. Subhan

15 01 2011
"Why should I read the Bible?" said I. "Who would read such an altered book which you people change every year?" At my reply . . . he said . . . Do you consider that all we Christians are dishonest? Do you think we fear God so little that we should keep deceiving the world by making changes in the Holy Scriptures? When Muslims say that Christians keep altering the text of the Tawrat and the Injil . . . they suggest that all Christians are dishonest and that they are deceivers of the people. Now this is a serious and unwarranted indictment. Christians believe in the Bible as the Word of God as Muslims do in the Quran. Thus, if no Muslim can change the text of the Quran, how is it that a Christian can change the text of the Book of the all-wise God, the Holy Bible? . . . if some mischievous Christian were to change the text of any verse of Scripture, would not all other true Christians consider him outside the pale of their religion and make public the facts about him? Of course they would! . . . the contention . . . that the text of God’s Word has been altered is absolutely without foundation and futile . . ."

Sultan Muhammad P. Khan

I Discovered True Salvation

Although I was raised as a Muslim, I found myself wrestling with the question of God’s existence.

I never thought I would come to the point where I seriously entertained doubts about the reality of God. But in college I found myself absorbed in one of the greatest mental struggles of my life. Did God exist or not? That was the burning question that occupied the minds of many of the students who fell under the amiable charm of a professor of the Persian language. And because of his influence, I wavered for a long time over the question of God’s existence. He had been a believer in Islam, but he made no point of concealing the abandonment of his religious views in favor of atheism.

My Islamic roots were deep. I was born into a devout Shi’ite family in Lucknow, India. My first form of instruction was received in a Quranic school where I studied Arabic. From my family and from my teachers I learned to be diligent in memorizing the Quran and in saying my prayers. With faithful regularity, I was found in the mosque for congregational prayer. The precepts and practices of Islam permeated my life and my society. I had no occasion to question its claims and commandments.

From time to time there were clashes between Sunnis and Shi’ites, and it was natural for me to become embroiled in the emotional tension they generated. I remember Sunnis becoming infuriated at Shi’ities when the latter would pronounce a curse on Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman. This was especially the case during the festivals that were held in remembrance of Ali, who should have been Muhammad’s successor from the beginning, according to Shi’ite belief.

Our family belonged to a minority within a minority. Of the six hundred million people in India, only about sixty-five million are Muslims. And there are probably not many more than one million who are Shi’ites. While Sunnis and Shi’ites generally live together in friendliness, there are differences that make the relationship a strained one. Virtually all Shi’ites reject the idea that the present Quran is the complete book that came from heaven. They believe that there are important deletions that Sunnis have made, especially in reference to Ali as the rightful successor of Muhammad. It was from this perspective that I viewed the world around me.

The time came for me to go to college, and I decided to go to Rampur to study Persian and the Islamic religion in much greater depth than I had done previously. During my first year I became very fond of one of my professors who was an atheist. He had come to the persuasion that matter was eternal and he saw no need to believe in God. In fact, the idea of God was unscientific and outdated, in his view. His influence on the students was subtle and powerful. I fell under the sway of his opinions for a while, but atheism left me discontented. There were too many questions it left unanswered.

Many students found his views attractive, however. Yet when they would go home they would conform to their Muslim way of life because of the overwhelming pressure of societal sanctions. I was determined to overcome such vacillation and hypocrisy by thinking through to an intelligent resolution of the problem. As I learned that there was unmistakable evidence that the structured universe is not eternal, I became convinced that there must be a powerful and intelligent Being who made this world. I reasoned that if that creative power was blind, there could be no order. But there is order, and this implied that the Power who made all things must be intelligent. A personal Being is ultimate and he has created order, and that is why order is found everywhere. That same Being governs the world and thereby sustains the order. My reflective contemplation of the design of all levels of existence served to restore my conviction of the reality of God.

Up to that point in my life I had not been brought into close contact with any Christian. My mother, who was well-educated, was the first person who spoke to me about Christ. Although she was a Muslim, she had an unusual esteem for Jesus Christ. When I was just a child, she recounted various stories about him to me. My admiration for him began to grow. Of course I still believed that Muhammad was the last of the prophets. Nevertheless, in my early years I found myself thinking of Christ as the greatest prophet who had ever lived. And I am confident that one of the reasons was his power to perform miracles, which even Muhammad could not do, as we are told in the Quran.

After I earned a degree in Oriental languages in Rampur, I went to teach at a school in Allahabad. On my way there I spent some time in Naini Tal where I attended a meeting of poets. I met a man there who shared my intense interest in poetry and we became good friends. He was the first Christian that I had come to know well. He gave me a New Testament, and this stimulated my most serious reflections on the Christian faith until that time. This interest was rekindled in Allahabad, for on my way to teach each day, I passed by a Christian library that I eventually entered. I not only found some excellent books on morality and literature, but I also found a genuine friend in the librarian. He was an earnest Indian Christian.

Through the librarian I met another Christian whose Christ-like life affected me very much. He would give almost all of his income to the poor and he would not sleep in a bed but on a mat on the floor. When I went to see him, I would usually find him in prayer on his knees. He was very kind to me and he even invited me to stay with him in his house. I lived with him for about three years. As I continued to carry on my teaching, he began to teach me the New Testament. In fact, he took the time to teach me the New Teatament from beginning to end.

I had previously come to believe that Christ was the highest and best of all the prophets, but it was not until I finished studying the entire New Testament that I came to believe in him as Savior and Lord. Then I realized that he is the Savior of the world and the only hope of acceptance with God.

In my study of the New Testament I was especially impressed with the records of Christ’s miracles. I was also greatly affected by John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." This showed me that God does not want anyone to be punished, but rather he wants everyone to come to him through Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I was deeply impressed by the account of the crucifixion* of Christ – how he willingly and selflessly laid down his life on the cross for the sake of others. I came to see that it was only by his death and resurrection* that human beings could be forgiven of their sin and come to know God.

During those days my mind was troubled with many questions. I especially had great difficulty understanding how Christ could be the Son of God. The Quran says that God has not begotten nor does he beget. It seemed inconceivable to me that God could have a son the way a man has a child. When I studied the New Testament, however I realized that nowhere did it teach this view of Christ’s sonship.

As I studied Arabic literature I discovered that there were enlightening analogies of that expression. For example, in the Quran itself there is the term, ibn essabil, which is literally "son of the path." One will also find the expression, ibn esshaitan, i.e., "son of Satan." It is obvious that these arc figurative forms of expression and do not involve physical reproduction. But they are meaningful terms that indicate relationship and character. The Kaaba is called "the mother of the town (of Mecca)." In a similar way, the title "Son of God" indicates a unique relationship between God and Christ, not any act or process of procreation.

In my consideration of the Christian faith, the problem of the meaning of the designation "Son of God" was inseparably connected with the doctrine of the Trinity. In typical Muslim fashion I believed that Christians were idolators. I thought that they believed in three gods.

A careful examination of the Bible revealed that this was a misunderstanding of the Christian faith. I found that over and over again the Bible denounced idolatry and polytheism. It was emphatic and clear in its affirmation of the unity of God. No fair-minded person could fail to see that the Bible consistently teaches that there is only one true God. The important question related to the nature of God and the kind of unity that characterized his being. That unity is complex, according to the Bible. There is only one being who is God, but within that one being there are personal distinctions. And the Bible refers to these distinctions as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are not three gods, for they are eternally and organically one in the Being who is the only God. That means that Christ is not a second god, for there is no second or third god.

For me, the question naturally arose as to the reliability of the Bible. Was it the word of God? Had it been changed? Did the present Bible represent a distorted version of what may have been originally revealed by God? Careful study led me to see that the Bible is accurate and trustworthy, and that no one had either the opportunity or capacity to alter it. Attempts had been made by heretics but they were always exposed by the Christian community. Moreover, the thousands of manuscripts of both the Old and New Testaments that we possess today demonstrate that the Bible we now have is the same as the Bible that the Christians had in the first century. This evidence is sufficient and irrefutable, but unfortunately Muslims are not aware of it.

My father had died before I went to Allahabad. When my mother heard that I was studying the New Testament with a Christian, she did not object or try to interfere. She said that it was a personal matter between me and God. She not only reverenced Christ but she was a well-informed and open-minded woman. When she died, however, my relatives agreed to disinherit me because I had become a Christian. According to Muslim law, when a man leaves Islam he should not receive anything. But I was prepared for this, because I knew that it would happen before I decided to become a Christian. My relatives were divided into two factions: those who persecuted me (and they were in the majority) and those who tolerated me (and they numbered only three or four). The latter group based their tolerance on their conviction that I was old enough and sufficiently educated to make my own decisions and live my own life. Almost inevitably, the larger faction prevailed, and opposition became so intense that I felt compelled to go to another city for employment. God opened the door for me to teach in a high schol in Hyderabad. Eventually I became a lecturer in a college and the author of six books in Urdu.

Of course I am often asked why I became a Christian. My answer is a direct and simple one. I found salvation in Christ! There is not one word about the assurance of salvation in the Quran. As a Muslim I never had the confidence that my sins were forgiven, for Allah may or may not forgive on the last day. I lived in dread of that day of judgment. No matter how diligent and fervent I was in my practice of Islam, there was no certainty that I would be saved and accepted by God. Fear, doubt, and anxiety haunted me in the undercurrent of every endeavor I made according to Islamic requirements. I longed for one word of unqualified assurance that my sins had been removed and my guilt pardoned. I could not find it in Islam and I was left restless and burdened.

The message of the Bible, in striking contrast to all of that, is truly good news. It tells of true salvation in Christ. In other words, it not only offers the assurance of forgiveness here and now, it also tells about the historical basis of that assurance. The basis of acceptance with God is the death of Christ on the cross for my sins and his resurrection from the grave for my justification.* By trusting in Christ I have full satisfaction and complete peace.

From my own experience I know how difflcult it is for a Muslim to rid himself of the shackles of prejudice and to open his mind to an objective examnation of the Christian faith. There is an advance fear that such serious consideration of it will result in strained relations with one’s family and society. And if a Muslim receives Christ as Savior and Lord, becoming a Christian in the true sense of that term, he is viewed as a religious apostate, a moral leper, and in many countries, a political traitor.

I had to face all of this, but I was gripped by the words of Christ in the New Testament: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36).

For me it is worth giving up everything in order to have Christ and the salvation that he alone can give. And the only way he gives it is freely, not on the basis of man’s efforts. That is why my trust is in him. He is my Savior, for through his sacrifice I have forever been forgiven of all of my sins. I neither want nor need any other ground of hope. As long as I live, I intend to spread the good news about Christ and his salvation to all my people.


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