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Saturday, 18 August 2007

Who is Allah ?

Who is Allah ?

By Abu Iman Abd ar-Rahman Robert Squires. © Muslim Answers

Some of the biggest misconceptions that many non-Muslims have about Islam have to do with the word "Allah". For various reasons, many people have come to believe that Muslims worship a different God than Christians and Jews. This is totally false, since "Allah" is simply the Arabic word for "God" - and there is only One God. Let there be no doubt - Muslims worship the God of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus - peace be upon them all. However, it is certainly true that Jews, Christians and Muslims all have different concepts of Almighty God. For example, Muslims - like Jews - reject the Christian beliefs of the Trinity and the Divine Incarnation. This, however, doesn't mean that each of these three religions worships a different God - because, as we have already said, there is only One True God. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all claim to be "Abrahamic Faiths", and all of them are also classified as "monotheistic". However, Islam teaches that other religions have, in one way or another, distorted and nullified a pure and proper belief in Almighty God by neglecting His true teachings and mixing them with man-made ideas.

First of all, it is important to note that "Allah" is the same word that Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews use for God. If you pick up an Arabic Bible, you will see the word "Allah" being used where "God" is used in English. (Click here to see some examples of the word "Allah" in the Arabic Bible.) This is because "Allah" is the only word in the Arabic language equivalent to the English word "God" with a capital "G". Additionally, the word "Allah" cannot be made plural or given gender (i.e. masculine or feminine), which goes hand-in-hand with the Islamic concept of God. Because of this, and also because the Qur'an, which is the holy scripture of Muslims, was revealed in the Arabic language, some Muslims use the word "Allah" for "God", even when they are speaking other languages. This is not unique to the word "Allah", since many Muslims tend to use Arabic words when discussing Islamic issues, regardless of the language which they speak. This is because the universal teachings of Islam - even though they have been translated in every major language - have been preserved in the Arabic language.

It is interesting to note that the Aramaic word "El", which is the word for God in the language that Jesus spoke, is certainly more similar in sound to the word "Allah" than the English word "God". This also holds true for the various Hebrew words for God, which are "El" and "Elah", and the plural form "Elohim". The reason for these similarities is that Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic are all Semitic languages with common origins. It should also be noted that in translating the Bible into English, the Hebrew word "El" is translated variously as "God", "god" and "angel"! This imprecise language allows different translators, based on their preconceived notions, to translate the word to fit their own views. The Arabic word "Allah" presents no such difficulty or ambiguity, since it is only used for Almighty God alone. Additionally, in English, the only difference between "god", meaning a false god, and "God", meaning the One True God, is the capital "G". In the Arabic alphabet, since it does not have capital letters, the word for God (i.e. Allah) is formed by adding the equivalent to the English word "the" (Al-) to the Arabic word for "god/God" (ilah). So the Arabic word "Allah" literally it means "The God" - the "Al-" in Arabic basically serving the same function as the capital "G" in English. Due to the above mentioned facts, a more accurate translation of the word "Allah" into English might be "The One -and-Only God" or "The One True God".

More importantly, it should also be noted that the Arabic word "Allah" contains a deep religious message due to its root meaning and origin. This is because it stems from the Arabic verb ta'allaha (or alaha), which means "to be worshipped". Thus in Arabic, the word "Allah" means "The One who deserves all worship". This, in a nutshell, is the Pure Monotheistic message of Islam. You see, according to Islam, "monotheism" is much more than simply believing in the existence of "only One God" - as seemingly opposed to two, three or more. If one understands the root meaning of the word "Allah", this point should become clear. One should understand that Islam's criticism of the other religions that claim to be "monotheistic" is not because they are "polytheistic" in the classic sense, but because they direct various forms of worship to other than Almighty God. We will discuss the meaning of worship in Islam below, however, before moving on it should be noted that many non-Muslims are unaware of the distinction between simply believing in the existence of only One God and reserving all worship for Him alone. Many Christians are painfully unaware of this point, and thus you often find them asking how Muslims can accuse the followers of Jesus, peace be upon him, of being "polytheists" when they were all "monotheistic Jews". First of all, it should be clarified that the word "polytheist" doesn't really sound right in this context, since to many it implies simply believing in the existence of more than one God. So in an Islamic context, "associators", "man-worshippers" or "creature worshippers" might be more accurate and appropriate terms - especially since Christians believe Jesus to be both "100% God and 100% man", while still paying lip-service to God's "Oneness". However, as we're previously touched upon, what is really at the root of this problem is the fact that Christians - as well as the members of other religions - don't really know what "monotheism" means - especially in the Islamic sense. All of the books, articles and papers that I've read which were written by Christians invariably limit "monotheism" to believing in the existence of "One Sovereign and Creator God". Islam, however, teaches much more than this.

Suffice it to say that just because someone claims to be a "monotheistic" Jew, Christian or Muslim, that doesn't keep them from falling into corrupt beliefs and idolatrous practices. Many people, including some Muslims, claim belief in "One God" even though they've fallen into acts of idolatry. Certainly, many Protestants accuse Roman Catholics of idolatrous practices in regards to the saints and the Virgin Mary. Likewise, the Greek Orthodox Church is considered "idolatrous" by many other Christians because in much of their worship they use icons. However, if you ask a Roman Catholic or a Greek Orthodox person if God is "One", they will invariably answer: "Yes!". This lip-service, however, does not stop them from being "creature worshipping" idolaters. The same goes for Hindus, who just consider their gods to be "manifestations" or "incarnations" of the One Supreme God.

Everyone should be aware of the fact that throughout the long history of the "Abrahamic Faiths", there have people who, while believing in "One God", have adopted beliefs and practices that completely nullify their claim to "monotheism". This is the Muslim view of Christians. We're well aware of the fact that they claim belief in "One God" with their lips, but this doesn't mean that they don't nullify their claim in other ways. This is because many people simply haven't been taught everything that Pure Monotheism entails. From an Islamic point of view, "monotheism" can be nullified in many ways. For example, simply believing that it is permissible to rule by Western "liberal" and "democratic" laws in lieu of the Divinely Revealed Law of Almighty God makes one a "polytheist". Certainly, a person who does such a thing, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, doesn't ever believe that there is another Almighty Creator and Sovereign Lord. However, for all practical purposes, such a person has take another "god", whether they choose to admit it or not. In this way they are associating partners with Almighty God (Arabic: shirk), and thus become a "polytheist" in a practical sense, regardless of their lip-service to "monotheism". This holds true even if the person doesn't believe what they are doing is "worship". For example, Roman Catholics who pray to the Virgin Mary will staunchly deny that they are "worshipping" her. They instead call it "adoration" or some other watered-down term. However, from an Islamic point of view, what is worship if not this? Islam teaches that prayer and supplication are the marrow of worship, so if one directs their prayers to an intermediary (even if the pray is "ultimately" meant for God), then what is left of worship? Additionally, how can someone who believes in Almighty God follow man-made laws instead of God's Law, without admitting that they've begun worshipping other than God? Do they know better than God?

Additionally, the Old Testament makes it perfectly clear that making a "graven image" of any created thing (not to mention ones which are supposed to "represent" Almighty God) is prohibited. Please see Exodus 20:4-6, Leviticus 26:1 and Deuteronomy 4:16, 23, 25, 5:8 and Nehemiah 9:6 for some statements in regards to this point. Without addressing the issue that Christians commonly violate the unambiguous commandment not to even "make" representations of anything that is in the "heavens above or on the earth beneath", these verses not only teach that worshipping idols is prohibited, but also that Almighty God is eternally distinct from His creation and thus nothing in His creation can represent Him. To believe otherwise is to be a de facto idol worshipper - even if one claims belief in one, and only one, "True God". In Exodus 20:4-6 and Deuteronomy 4:16, Almighty God - who is a "Jealous God" - makes it perfectly clear that He is distinct from His creation.

By giving such clear and merciful guidance to human beings, God is establishing a universal and eternal Truth for the benefit of mankind. This eternal Truth is the bedrock of religious guidance, since once people begin to believe that Almighty God mixes with or can be represented by His creation, they can be duped into believing almost anything. Once someone accepts that God has become "incarnate" in His creation, or that someone or something is a "manifestation" - and thus representation - of Him, the floodgates are open and "Truth" becomes a matter of subjective guesswork. Once the first and most basic concept is violated - regardless of how complicated and sophisticated the rationale for it might be - it is very easy to fall further and further away from the Eternal Truth of Pure Monotheism. In the final analysis, it is not a question of whether God is capable of becoming a man, but rather a question of whether one bases their beliefs about God on clear, unambiguous and authentic guidance. Once it is left up to the human mind to decide what Almighty God can and cannot do, the stage is set for misguidance to take root. Human speculation about God only ends up leading to misguidance and despair, since no clear conclusions can ever be reached. For example, is God capable of creating an object so heavy that He is incapable of moving it? If not, does that mean that He is incapable? It is because of misguided questions like this that Islam clearly teaches that mankind should only say about God what He has said about Himself. This means all of our ideas about God must be based on Revelation - not human speculation. In short, the final prophet of Islam - Muhammad - was sent by Almighty God to preach the same Pure Monotheism that was practiced by Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus - peace be upon them all. This Pure Monotheism means not only believing that there is only One God in existence, but realizing that He is transcedent above His creation and that all worship is due to Him alone.

Before concluding, we should probably address the practice of those Muslims who insist on using the Arabic word "Allah" even when speaking English. Even though this practice certainly is not to be condemned when it is done around those who understand the meaning of the Arabic word "Allah", it is my experience - both during my years as a non-Muslim and my years as a Muslim - that such a practice can (and usually does) breed misunderstanding. It seems that often times, many of the Muslims who use the word "Allah" in lieu of the word "God", even when trying to attract people to Islam, are unaware of the severe misunderstandings that many non-Muslims have about Islam (and the distorted way which Islam has been portrayed in the West). Insisting on using the word "Allah" only fuels the flames of misunderstanding - so there's no good reason to do it. I've often wondered what value some Muslims think that using the word "Allah" adds to the Pure Message that they are trying to convey. ( . . . and I'm still waiting for an answer!) Unfortunately, those Muslims who insist on using the word "Allah" even when addressing non-Muslims who are unfamiliar with Islam and the Arabic language, do both a disservice to themselves and their religion. Unfortunately, this practice is usually based on the false assumption - by a non-native speaker of English - that the word "God" in English is incapable of expressing a pure and proper belief in Almighty God. This is certainly false. If someone says that the English word "God" cannot be used to express the Pure Islamic Belief in Tawhid, they are wrong not because they don't understand Tawhid, but simply because they don't understand the English language. Many people who insist on using the Arabic word "Allah" usually don't realize this, because in reality, they are not so much affirming the word "Allah" as they are rejecting the word "God" as unsuitable - based on incorrect assumptions. For someone to assume that the word "God" presupposes a certain theological point-of-view (such as the Trinity) is simply Wrong - and that's Wrong with a capital "W". To say the word "God" should be rejected because it can be changed into "god", "gods" or "goddess" is illogical because each of these words has a distinctive meaning and a distinctive spelling - at least to someone who knows how to speak English correctly. Using the same logic, I can demonstrate that the root letters "ktb" can be used to form the Arabic words "kitab" (book), "maktabah" (library), "maktab" (office) and "kaatib" (writer), but does that mean that these words have the same meaning? Do Arabic-speaking people go through life confusing libraries with writers and offices with books (both in conversation and in reality)? I think not! This is not to mention the fact that if the Arabic "Al-" was put in front of these words in order to make them definite, confusion would be even less likely! So the logic in both cases is the same, and this is because even though the same letters are used in "God" and "god", these two words have two different meanings in the English language. The capital "G" implies something different than the small "g" - and anyone who denies this simply doesn't know how to speak the English language.

In concluding this point, it should be mentioned that Arabic-speaking Muslims who believe in Pure Tawhid, Arabic-speaking Christians, the idol worshippers of Mecca and (so-called) Muslims who believe in "Wahdat al-Wujud" all use the word "Allah". However, does this guarantee all of them proper belief in "Allah"? Certainly not, because if they have a corrupt concept of "Allah" it doesn't matter what word they use!

This brings us to a more important point: It should be clearly understood that what Islam is primarily concerned with is correcting mankind's concept of Almighty God. What we are ultimately going to be held accountable at the end of our life is not whether we prefer the word "Allah" over the word "God", but what our concept of God is. Language is only a side issue. A person can have an incorrect concept of God while using the word "Allah", and likewise a person can have a correct concept of God while using the word "God". This is because both of these words are equally capable of being misused and being improperly defined. As we've already mentioned, using the word "Allah" no more insinuates belief in the Unity of God than the use of the word "God" insinuates belief in the Trinity - or any other theological opinion. Naturally, when God sends a revelation to mankind through a prophet, He is going to send it in a language that the people who receive it can understand and relate to. Almighty God makes this clear in the Qur'an, when He states:

"Never did We send a Messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people in order to make (things) clear to them."
(Qur'an, Chapter 14 - "Abraham", Verse 4)

As Muslims, we think that it is unfortunate that we have to go into details on such seemingly minor issues, but so many falsehoods have been heaped upon our religion, that we feel that it is our duty to try to break down the barriers of falsehood. This isn't always easy, since there is a lot of anti-Islamic literature in existence which tries to make Islam look like something strange and foreign to Westerners. There are some people out there, who are obviously not on the side of truth, that want to get people to believe that "Allah" is just some Arabian "god", and that Islam is completely "other" - meaning that it has no common roots with the other Abrahamic religions (i.e. Christianity and Judaism). To say that Muslims worship a different "God" because they say "Allah" is just as illogical as saying that French people worship another God because they use the word "Dieu", that Spanish-speaking people worship a different God because they say "Dios" or that the Hebrews worshipped a different God because they sometimes call Him "Yahweh". Certainly, reasoning like this is quite ridiculous! It should also be mentioned, that claiming that any one language uses the only the correct word for God is tantamount to denying the universality of God's message to mankind, which was to all nations, tribes and people through various prophets who spoke different languages.

Before closing, we would like everyone to be aware of the fact that some Christian missionary organizations print English literature intended to teach Christians about Islam which say such things as: "Allah is the god of the Muslims" and that "Muhammad came to get people to believe in the god Allah" - implying that "Allah" is some sort of false "god". However, when these same organizations print literature in the Arabic language, hoping to lead Arabic-speaking Muslims "to Christ", they use the word "Allah" for God. It seems that if they were on the side of truth, they would not have to resort to such inconsistencies. And on an even more ridiculous note . . . there are also missionary organizations that exceed this in ignorance (or deceit) by writing books that call on Muslims to give up their belief in "Allah", and instead worship the "Lord" Jesus, "the Son of God". Besides making it abundantly clear that they are outside the community of Pure Monotheism, the people who write such material don't even realize that if they wrote such a pamphlet in Arabic, it would be self-contradictory. This is because in an Arabic Bible Jesus is the "Son of Allah"! If an Arabic-speaking person gave up the worship of "Allah", they would have no God to worship, since "Allah" is simply the Arabic word for God!

Before we conclude, however, we would like to ask our readers to ask themselves what they think the reasons are behind all of these lies? If Islam was just some false religion that didn't make any sense, would so many people, from Western scholars to Christian missionaries, have to tell so many lies about it? The reason is that the Ultimate Truth of Islam stands on solid ground and its unshakable belief in the Unity of God is above reproach. Due to this, Christians can't criticize its doctrines directly, but instead make up things about Islam that aren't true so that people lose the desire to learn more. If Muslims were able to present Islam in the proper way to people in the West, it surely might make many people reconsider and re-evaluate their own beliefs. It is quite likely that Christians, when they find out that there is a universal religion in the world that teaches people to worship and love God, while also practicing Pure Monotheism, would at least feel that they should re-examine the basis for their own beliefs and doctrines.


MMajor Fan said...

May peace be upon you! This is a very helpful posting and I hope that many read it, understand it, and take it to heart. I am in 100 % agreement with your explanation that Allah and God are the one and the same Monotheistic God. So I think that your illumination on this logic and theology is excellent and very illuminating. Remember that Christians are fractured, divided between Catholic (my faith) and Protestant and non-denominational Christianity. Catholics tend to have clearer understanding of the oneness of God and Allah since even the poorly catechized of them do tend to reference more back to the common Biblical roots of Judaism, Islam, and Catholicism. Much of the hostile literature that Muslims read about them is written by people who are also hostile to Catholics, and who are friendly to Jewish faith only because of misunderstood prophecy beliefs, not because they understand the Abrahamic origins. So I think what you wrote is very helpful in this regard, and hope that it will be read and understood by many.

I want to post a second set of comments later to help in understanding the other issues that you raise.
Until later, blessings.

MMajor Fan said...

May peace be upon you. Here is a continuation of my thoughts, and I thank you for such a pleasant web site to continue this dialogue.

It is correct that idols are forbidden. Exodus 20:4-5 You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. Notice that God specifically cites “anything in the sky above or in the waters beneath the earth”- he is clearly referring to animals. He refers later to past wickedness in this regard and he is specifically expressing ire at the creation of animal idols, the very beasts that God himself has created, as being worshipped as a rival god. Psalm 115 specifically replies to the taunts of idol worshippers who ask “Where is their God?” Psalm 115: 4-8 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but do not see. They have ears but do not hear, noses but do not smell. They have hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk, and no sound rises from their throats. Their makers shall be like them, all who trust in them. Notice here that idol worshippers believe that an object created or fashioned in shape by their own hands can have sensation and power, which this Psalm refutes. This Psalm answers the idolaters’ question by stating “Our God is in heaven; whatever God will is done.” (Psalm 115: 3). So God clearly prohibits the taking of a natural or manmade object and believing that it possesses some or all of the qualities or abilities of God.

However, during the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, God included in his instructions to Moses the making of two images of angels, called cherubim. Exodus 25: 16-22 You shall then make a propitiatory of pure gold, two cubits and a half long, and one and a half cubits wide. Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the propitiatory, fastening them so that one cherub springs direct from each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, covering the propitiatory with them; they shall be turned toward each other, but with their faces looking toward the propitiatory. This propitiatory you shall then place on top of the ark. In the ark itself you are to put the commandments which I will give you. There I will meet you and there, from above the propitiatory, between the two cherubim on the ark of the commandments, I will tell you all the commands that I wish you to give the Israelites. God also instructed Moses to make a table of acacia wood with gold vessels: Of pure gold you shall make its plates and cups, as well as its pitchers and bowls for pouring libations. On the table you shall always keep showbread set before me (Exodus 25: 29-30). It is very clear reading God’s detailed instructions that the creation of two images of angels, the cherubim, is not an invitation to worship the statues as sentient beings. God states that he will meet Moses at the location between the two created images of angels. This, the lid of the ark of covenant, is called the “Mercy Seat” because it is there that God “sat” when he met with Moses, and where on the table the holy bread was always kept for offering to God, and was later eaten by the priests. Still later in this passage God instructs Moses to fashion lamp stands with branches like almond blossoms. Again, there is no confusion that either the angels or the almond flowers contain any sentience or godly powers. The representations are sacred, however, because they belong to God and decorate the place where God meets with Moses.

Moses, who was not shy with the Lord, would have had no problem asking God if there had been any doubt that creation of cherubim to decorate and honor the ark constituted idols, because clearly they did not. Indeed not obeying God in his desire for specific decorations in his honor would have been sinful, and extremely unwise.

When the Israelites came to Jerusalem, the ark resided in the Temple of Jerusalem. In the temples priests conducted sacrifices according to the Jewish law, as specified by Moses following God’s instructions in the Book of Leviticus and the Book of Deuteronomy. We recall that Abraham conducted sacrifice according to God’s wishes, even being tested to sacrifice his own son Isaac. After seeing that Abraham was faithful and would do the sacrifice if necessary, God sent an angel to stay Abraham’s hand. Genesis 22:13-14 As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son. Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh; hence people now say, “On the mountain the Lord will see.” It was then that the Lord’s messenger spoke on behalf of the Lord saying “that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore…” (Genesis 22:16-17). In the Book of Leviticus God provides to Moses very detailed instructions about the importance of and procedures for acceptable sacrifices, which were animal holocausts or other offerings such as cereal. For example Leviticus 2:1-3 instructs “When anyone wishes to bring a cereal offering to the Lord, his offering must consist of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense over it. When he has brought it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, one of them shall take a handful of this fine flour and oil, together with all the frankincense, and this he shall burn on the altar as a token offering, a sweet-smelling oblation to the Lord. The rest of the cereal offering belongs to Aaron and his sons. It is a most sacred oblation to the Lord.” God details through Moses how to make peace offerings, sin offerings for priests, for the community, for the princes, for private persons, for special cases, for daily offerings and for guilt offerings. Provision is made for the poor who cannot afford an animal of the flock. Offerings may be made of two turtledoves or two pigeons (Leviticus 5:7) or “If he is unable to afford even two turtledoves or two pigeons, he shall present as a sin offering for his sin one tenth of an epha of fine flower” without frankincense if it is a sin offering (Leviticus 5:11). These rules of sacrifice, established during the exodus through God’s instruction to Moses, continued to take place, and in fact became much “institutionalized” into the time of Jesus Christ.

The reason that I am instructing about the offering of sacrifice is that this has a direct bearing on the accoutrements of the Catholic Church; those accoutrements which are sometimes mistaken for idolatry or use of graven images. It is an understandable mistake because faith formation and understanding has become, regretfully, so very poor among Catholics themselves, say nothing of the Protestant and non denominational faiths who have split away from the true Church. Most Catholics probably could not explain what I have just presented, and now will present part two of. It is not surprising that non Catholic Christians and Muslims do not understand this, and I do not fault Muslims at all for not understanding and questioning, because I believe they are very faithful guardians of God’s will. However it is important for Muslims (and Christians who are poorly formed) to understand that the Catholic Church is still the holy place a sacrifice. Jesus Christ did not eliminate God’s instructions regarding the need for sacrifice.

At the time of Jesus Christ there are several events in his life that directly attest to the status of sacrifice in the temples during that time. After Jesus was born, circumcised and named, he was presented in the temple “according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate of the law of the Lord.” (Luke2: 23-24). Notice that Jesus’ family made the level of offering of people who were too poor to sacrifice an animal from a herd. During his public ministry Jesus would admire and point out to his disciples the poor widow who only had a few small coins representing a few cents to give to the temple treasury. Mark 12: 43-44 Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood. Near to the same time Jesus criticized the scribes because “they devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation” (Mark 12: 40). His criticism of the financial exploitation of the poor in the name of sacrifice to God came to the boiling point when Jesus cleansed the temple: Then Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” And every day he was teaching in the temple area. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile, were seeking to put him to death, but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose because all the people were hanging on to his words (Luke 19: 45-48). Notice that Jesus did not say that sacrifice to God was no longer needed; he was driving out the moneychangers who were selling at high price to the poor the animals, birds, and goods for sacrifice. What used to be the people bringing in from their harvest a portion to God had become a financial business taking place right in the temple.

Jesus prepared the Apostles and disciples for the change that he was bringing on behalf of God by reminding them that he was fulfillment of the Old Covenant and initiation of the New Covenant. At no point does he say that sacrifice to God is no longer to take place. And at no point does he say that the temple (soon to be church) is not the location for sacrifice to God. What Jesus brought from God to the Jews, and would be also for the Gentiles, was the bloodless sacrifice to God. Sacrifice would continue to take place, but as I cited earlier in Leviticus, the sacrifice would be one of flour, in memory of Jesus Christ. This was foreseen in the time of David when it is written: And the king said to Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord my god of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. So the Lord was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.” David had sinned in conducting an unauthorized census, and would not accept from the man Araunah the goods for sacrifice to God as a free gift; David insisted on buying “it of thee at a price.” This becomes one of the most profound and frequently quoted prophecies of the ministry of Jesus Christ, to “buy it of thee at a price” (2 Samuel 24: 22-24).

Through his suffering and sacrifice of his life, Jesus deliberately instituted a bloodless sacrifice to God, one that he paid once for all, so that the poor would no longer have to buy sacrifice goods, and one that would be based on flour (bread) in his memory to God. This was the hardest theological point of the New Covenant for many of his disciples and they left him. There was centuries of mentality that all Jews, regardless of their means, had to give money or livestock to the temple for propitiatory of sins and for holy day and event sacrifice to God. It was extremely radical of Jesus Christ to offer himself once as sacrifice to God in order to institute the New Covenant, and new, “of all nations” church. Many Christians who are not Catholics freely accept and celebrate that Jesus Christ became the sacrifice once for all, but they think, erroneously, that Jesus eliminated sacrifice to God completely. He did not. The temple, soon to be the Church, is still the place of daily sacrifice to God. What Jesus Christ did, however, is he now provides the sacrifice in the form of the Eucharistic bread and wine. It is every bit a solemn a sacrifice to God as it was when bullocks were slain on the altar of the temple. Jesus, as brought forth by God, took the humblest of offerings available to the poor for sacrifice (think back to the above reference of the cereal and oil with frankincense) and created a sacramental daily offering to God with his body and spirit with bread and wine. He did this at the Last Supper, the night before he was betrayed, and in the most solemn of tones. There is no indication in the Bible Gospels, Epistles, or early Church Father writings that this Eucharist, this bloodless sacrifice, was anything other than the most solemn of occasions in continuity with offering daily sacrifice to God as he commanded. The Catholic Church took form, through Peter, Paul and the other first Apostles and disciples following Jesus’ example and instructions, where the temple became the church, and the holocausts offered to God became bloodless. It is in a Catholic Church that every day for two thousand years one can find the faithful offering of the bloodless sacrifice to God. All people have to do is show up; they do not have to drag a sheep for slaughter, and they do not have to pay a temple moneychanger for two turtledoves.

Having said this, I think Muslims can now better understand why the Church infrastructure tends to be decorated with statuary, carvings, and stained glass. Catholics view the Church as the new temple decorated in accordance with the solemnity of the daily sacrifice to God, now called the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. As God instructed Moses to construct the ark with cherubim and with gold vessels of cups and plates for the bread offering, Catholics see themselves as providing continuity with providing the respectful images of God and the bloodless sacrifice. The crucified Christ is the Catholic way to honor and recall the price that Jesus Christ paid to bring fulfill and replace the Old Covenant with the New. No Catholic believes that Jesus or God is within the carved statue or the crucifix. But they honor and venerate his teachings and deeds through gazing on the image. This would have been true of the Israelites as the gazed on the cherubim who bracket the Mercy Seat of the ark, though they could not touch it on penalty of death, since God was physically present in the vicinity of the ark. Catholics gaze on the statues of Jesus, the Holy Family, and the martyrs as those who with their own blood brought a free and bloodless ability to perform daily sacrifice to God, who merits this sacrifice from the faithful, since it is from God that all goodness comes. When Catholics gaze upon a statue of Mary, they are recalling a young girl who said “Yes” to the angel and who became the pure vessel of God… and who later had to watch her son be persecuted and die a physical death. People are not worshipping Mary, or the saints, because like the cherubim on the ark, Catholics understand that no spirit resides within the statuary. However, they can better understand the New Covenant by recognizing who has been blessed by God. Mary said “Generations shall call me blessed;” she did not say that generations will worship her. The key to understanding the imagery of the Catholic Church is to consider what I have explained above, how true, completely formed Catholics understand that the Church is the new temple where sacrifice to God continues to take place, in the form of the sanctified bread and wine. Catholics view each church building as the temple where the continuous celebration of the bloodless sacrifice of the lamb takes place in God’s presence. This is why even non believers often comment that they do not feel alone when they go into a Catholic Church. It is because the sacrifice to God of the lamb in bread and wine has taken place and is celebrated each day in honor of God, with no price of admission charged and no money changers for turtledoves. Therefore Catholics feel that because God instructed that cherubim placed in image of each side of the ark of the covenant, likewise the Church is to be provided with reminders and images that illuminate the sacrifice that is constantly celebrated within.

I hope this helps our very fruitful dialogue for mutual respect and understanding!

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