PRAYER-DUEL WITH A MUSLIM
A Christian Confronts the Islamic Practice of Mubahala
PART ONE: The Challenge
During the summer of 2005, my friend Nabeel, who was a Muslim at the time, brought another Muslim to a small gathering of friends to discuss Christianity vs. Islam. (Nabeelís Muslim friend has asked to remain anonymous in this article, so I will refer to him by the pseudonym "Ahmed.") Overall, I was impressed with Ahmed. I learned that he had been raised in the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, but that he had converted to orthodox Islam. When he converted, he sent letters to numerous Ahmadi Muslims, urging them to reject the teachings of his former sect. Beyond this, Ahmed seemed to be quite reasonable on certain issues. For instance, he admitted that the Gospel of Barnabas is an obvious forgery. Since many Muslims cling to the Gospel of Barnabas despite the overwhelming proof against its authenticity, the fact that Ahmed was willing to acknowledge its falsity showed that he was open to evidence.
At the same time, despite his openness in certain areas, I noticed that Ahmed had a strong tendency to reinterpret evidence to conform to his Muslim beliefs. We examined a number of statements by Jesus, as well as some Old Testament prophecies, yet whenever the facts called Ahmedís position into question, he simply replied, "That all depends on your interpretation."
Ahmed and I also had an email exchange. He responded to some of my criticisms of Islam, and I replied back. Eventually, Ahmed wrote a lengthy article and posted it on his website. At the end of the article, he challenged me to a Mubahalaóa Muslim prayer-duel. Having received the challenge, it never occurred to me that I should reject it, though I was concerned about the format. Traditionally, in a Mubahala, each side is supposed to call down the curse of God on the "liars" (i.e. the opposing party). This aspect helps illustrate an important difference between Islam and Christianity. Whereas Muslims are permitted to curse their enemies, Christians are commanded to bless those who hate us and to pray for them:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12:14)
Fortunately, Ahmed took the Christian mode of thinking into consideration while putting together the format of the Mubahala, and we ended up with a Christian-friendly version of an ancient Muslim practice.
We met together on January 1st, 2006, to take our oaths and sign our contracts. Ahmed brought a Muslim witness, and I brought a Christian witness (the newly Christian Nabeel) along with another person, who taped the exchange. Ahmed stated his core beliefs about Islam and Christianity, and then called down the curse of God upon himself if his beliefs were false. After that, I stated my beliefs about Christianity and Islam, and asked God to curse me if my beliefs were false. To add a Christian twist to the duel, I asked God to abundantly bless the person speaking the truth. We also signed contracts that reinforced our agreement.
I was satisfied with the arrangement. I wasnít required to curse anyone. I simply invited God to curse me if the core teachings of Christianity are false. But since the core teachings of Christianity are absolutely true, I had nothing to worry about. Ahmed, on the other hand, had staked his safety on the teachings of Muhammad, and Muhammad was a false prophet. To me, of course, this seemed like a very dangerous move on the part of Ahmed.
We agreed that any clear sign of a curse that took place within a year would count as a verdict from God. However, just three weeks after signing our contracts, I received an email from Ahmed. He apologized to me for what he had done and said that he could "no longer be a party to this ĎMubahalaí challenge." A number of bad things had happened to him, yet instead of concluding that God had cursed him, he decided that God was simply punishing him for wrongfully entering into a Mubahala. Hence, the flaw that I had noticed when I first met Ahmed (i.e. his willful reinterpretation of everything that conflicts with Islam) had returned to help him reinterpret the outcome of our prayer-duel.
Ahmed is quite embarrassed by the ordeal. I asked him if he would contribute his side of the story to this article, but he would rather remain anonymous. Personally, I donít think he has much to be ashamed of. He loved his religion enough to lay his own safety on the line, and this took a great deal of courage. However, it takes even more courage to follow God wherever He leads. Ahmed exhibited his willingness to obey God when he left the Ahmadiyya sect. We can only pray that his strength of heart will once again be revealed in leaving Islam entirely, with his eyes fixed on Jesus.
Although Ahmed didnít want to contribute to this essay, I think itís important to have additional testimony here. Thus, Part Two will be the same story from Nabeelís perspective.
PART TWO: Further Testimony
Last year, while investigating Christianity, I decided to invite my friend Ahmed along with me to a friendís apologetics group meeting. I considered Ahmed to be a seeker of the truth, as was I; I also believed that all good arguments were worth hearing. There Ahmed met David Wood, and they started dialoging about Islam and Christianity.
Over the next several months, David and Ahmed exchanged some emails discussing certain arguments for and against their respective faiths. The culmination of this exchange was an invitation to a prayer duel, or "mubahala," based on the one proposed by the Prophet of Islam in the Qurían:
But whoever disputes with you in this matter after what has come to you of knowledge, then say: Come let us call our sons and your sons and our women and your women and our near people and your near people, then let us be earnest in prayer, and pray for the curse of Allah on the liars. (3:61)
Ahmed decided that since intellect was not enough to prove the truth of Islam over Christianity (or vice versa) God should be invoked as arbiter.
I am personally connected to this mubahala because, as a friend of both Ahmed and David, I was invited to be the moderator. As I was an Ahmadi, he considered me to be a neutral third party member. However, unbeknownst to Ahmed, my own search for the truth had already led me to Christianity and I could no longer be considered "neutral" if I were to moderate. I thus refused to be moderator, but told Ahmed I would be present at the signing of the mubahala papers. I came as Davidís Christian witness. (To read about my conversion from Islam to Christianity, click here.)
David and I went together to the agreed signing location. On our way there, he asked me what I thought would happen in the course of the prayer duel. Having become convinced of Christianityís truth, I knew that Ahmed would essentially be calling curses down upon himself. However, most people are very obstinate in their beliefs, and very little can cause people to see that they are wrong, even the losing verdict in a mubahala. I told David that Ahmed would probably have some unusual difficulties in his lifeónothing life threatening, yet some things that were obviously out of the ordinary, such that any neutral observer would know that Godís verdict was against him. I also predicted that, instead of recognizing his loss and Godís response, Ahmed would explain away the extraordinary occurrences, subconsciously writing off the verdict.
I came to this conclusion because, having been a Muslim, I knew from personal experience that Muslims will take supernatural signs from God to mean anything and everything other than admonitions to leave Islam. I even explained this to Ahmed that very day, after the papers were signed. Then I prayed to God in front of both Ahmed and David, asking Him not to punish the cursed party too severely, for I was worried about Ahmedís safety.
A few weeks later, Ahmed called off the mubahala. He has asked me not to share the details of the events which caused him to reconsider his involvement in the prayer duel, except that there were events that were out of the ordinary. Ahmed did exactly as I had predicted, explaining away these events to mean that God did not want him to partake in the mubahala, and not that he had actually lost.
Thus ended the first and only mubahala I have seen with my own eyes. A Muslim challenged a Christian, the Christian accepted, and I predicted the outcome. May God open the eyes of those who ask for signs yet cannot see them, and may He send His blessings upon us all. Amen.
PART THREE: Islam and the Art of Reinterpretation
As Nabeel pointed out, our biases sometimes hinder our search for truth. Godís answer to a Mubahala is a kind of evidence, but evidence can always be reinterpreted by those who are most concerned with believing what they want to believe. Iím not saying this simply of Ahmed. This applies to everyone, whether Christian or Muslim, atheist or Jew. It is quite natural for a person, when confronted with evidence against his beliefs, to view the facts through colored lenses.
While believers of every kind may do this from time to time, it is a much greater problem when it comes to Islam. As anyone who has tried presenting historical evidence to Muslims will know, reinterpretation of the evidence is at the very heart of Muhammadís religion. Indeed, based on my own experience, Iíve found that discussions (of the evidential sort) with Muslims often go something like this:
Christian: The evidence for Jesusí death on the cross is overwhelming. We have not only Christian sources that report His death, but also Jewish and Roman sources. All the ancient sources agree that Jesus died.
Muslim: Well, I believe that God made everyone think that Jesus died. However, in reality, God took Jesus to heaven, and Judas was crucified in his place.
Christian: So God is in the business of tricking everyone into believing falsehoods? That seems a bit odd to me. Well, what about all the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead?
Muslim: I believe that God may have let Jesus appear to the disciples after he was taken to heaven. The disciples simply misinterpreted Jesusí appearances. They thought that he had risen from the dead, but in reality he had just returned for a visit.
Christian: If that had been the case, I think Jesus would have informed them that He never really died, to prevent misunderstanding. Based on what youíre saying, it looks like Jesus started the largest religion in the worldóChristianityóby accident. But what about all the 1st century evidence that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God?
Muslim: Your sources have been corrupted.
Christian: What if I show you that all of our more than 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament agree that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, died, and rose from the dead? Would that make a difference?
Muslim: No. I will still believe that the evidence has all been changed. No evidence, no matter how strong, will ever convince me of Christianity.
Christian: And yet youíll believe anything that Muhammad saysówithout question! Personally, I canít accept Muhammad as a prophet. He married more than a dozen women, had sex with a nine-year-old girl, allowed his troops to rape their female captives, robbed people, traded slaves, tortured people for money, and brutally murdered those who questioned him. Are you really willing to believe everything he says?
Muslim: Of course. All those things were completely acceptable. How dare you question Godís greatest messenger!
Christian: I must say, your faith is quite invincible.
Many Muslims would say that this imaginary dialogue doesnít represent their position. But based on personal correspondence and conversations with numerous Muslims, I think it is really quite accurate. This isnít to say that all Muslims think in this manner. Some Muslims will examine the evidence objectively. However, if a Muslim begins examining evidence objectively, he probably wonít be a Muslim for long.
PART FOUR: Some (Temporarily) Final Thoughts on Mubahala
Since Mubahala is not a Christian practice, it is difficult to say what Christians should do when challenged to one. Nevertheless, a few things are clear.
First, the outcome of a Mubahala will probably have very little effect on Muslims. Of course, if a Christian who takes part in a prayer-duel suddenly gets hit by a car, Muslims will be sure to claim victory. But if something happens to a Muslim in the duel, reinterpretation is always easy. The Muslim who receives the curse could say, "Now that I have examined my scriptures more carefully, I conclude that only Muhammad could justly call for a Mubahala. Hence, I was wrong to call for one, and I must back out of our agreement." (This was the approach taken by Ahmed.) As for those Muslims who, seeing such an outcome, decide to continue believing in prayer-duels, they could simply say, "That Mubahala wasnít done properly," or "That particular Muslim wasnít a good representative of Islam, so the outcome doesnít matter." Either way, the outcome probably wonít have much of an effect on people who are used to reinterpreting evidence.
Second, even though the outcome of a Mubahala will be unlikely to persuade Muslims that Christianity is true, Christians have nothing to fear from taking part in a modified Mubahala (i.e. one in which we donít have to call down curses on others). The God who raised Jesus from the dead is not going to curse Christians just because people who reject His offer of salvation pray for a curse. Thus, so long as the Christian isnít violating Scripture, I see no reason why Christians shouldnít accept a challenge to call God as a witness.
Third, while Muslims may challenge Christians to prayer-duels, Christians certainly shouldnít make similar challenges. Muslims call for Mubahalas because they have no real evidence to support their position. When confronted with the awful facts about Muhammadís life, there is perhaps no other recourse than to say, "Letís curse one another and see who dies!" Christians, on the other hand, are not in the same predicament. We have the resurrection of Jesus to prove that Christianity is true. It was a sign from God, and all who reject it are guilty of rejecting Godís greatest miracle. Christians, then, should focus on challenging people to examine the evidence for Christianity, not on cursing people.
Since Muslims have no miraculous sign that vindicates Islam, they will continue, occasionally, to call for Mubahalas. If a Christian has thoughtfully and prayerfully considered the options, and decides to take part in a prayer-duel, I suggest that both parties agree that the following rules be applied to the interpretation of the outcome:
If the Muslim is clearly cursed and the Christian is clearly blessed, this counts as some evidence against Islam and for Christianity.
If the Christian is clearly cursed and the Muslim is clearly blessed, this counts as some evidence against Christianity and for Islam.
If the Muslim is clearly cursed but the Christian is not blessed, this counts as some evidence against Islam, but not for Christianity.
If the Christian is clearly cursed but the Muslim is not blessed, this counts as some evidence against Christianity, but not for Islam.
If nothing happens (i.e. neither side is clearly cursed or blessed), this counts as some evidence against Islam.
This last rule may seem odd, but careful reflection shows that it is quite reasonable. The Prophet of Islam himself laid down the practice of Mubahala. If he was right, then God will give a clear answer when two parties enter into a prayer-duel. Thus, if a Mubahala takes place, and nothing happens, it seems that Muhammad must have been wrong. This would be a reason (albeit a slight one) for doubting Muhammadís authority.
PART FIVE: An Invitation to Pious Muslims
I entered into a prayer-duel several months ago, and I believe that God delivered His verdict. However, I suspect that many Muslims will say, "You survived the Mubahala with Ahmed; now enter one with me!" Since I think itís a waste of time to spend the rest of my life asking God to curse me over and over again, I propose the following alternative. Allow me to first explain the situation.
Shortly after Ahmed backed out of our Mubahala, a Muslim named Naser made a similar challenge. I talked to him over the phone, and he asked me what I would be willing to put on the line for Christianity. I told him that I would gladly lay my life on the line. Several weeks later, he sent me a contract he had written. After making some modifications, I signed it and marked it with the blood of my right hand. The contract stated my beliefs about God, Jesus, Christianity, and Muhammad. It also stated that I invite God to curse me if my beliefs are false. This wasnít strictly a Mubahala, however, since I was the only one entering into it (Naser simply signed as a witness). Nevertheless, it seems that it is in line with the spirit of the Qurían. Muhammad believed that God will curse a non-Muslim who, along with Muslims, invites God to curse the liar. I have signed a contract stating that I agree to these terms. Moreover, though Ahmed has called off the first prayer-duel, I havenít withdrawn from my original oath. This means that I am currently under two separate Mubahala contracts.
Instead of numerous separate Mubahalas, I invite all of the worldís 1.2 billion Muslims to join together in prayer for Godís curse upon me. For the record, Iíve had heart problems since I was ten years old, so it would be quite easy for Muhammadís God, if he is the true God, to curse me. If Islam is true, then may the world know it through Godís curse upon me. But if God doesnít curse meóindeed, if He blesses me insteadóthen let us forever end this nonsensical notion that God will curse a Christian in a Muslim prayer-duel. Next year, Iíll give a full account of everything that has taken place. Until then, I will continue to proclaim: "Jesus is LORD, and Muhammad was a false prophet."
1. Many Muslims would object to the phrase "Ahmadi Muslims," for Ahmadis believe in another prophet after Muhammad. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the Ahmadiyya sect. On the one hand, I know several Ahmadi Muslims, and they are extremely dedicated to the teachings of Islam. They wholeheartedly believe that Muhammad was a prophet and that the Qurían is the word of God. They pray five times a day and fast, and they have a warm and friendly community.
On the other hand, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (the founder of the Ahmadiyya sect) made some of the most absurd claims Iíve ever heard, such as his claim to be the second coming of Jesus as well as the Muslim Mahdi. Moreover, the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad make Islam even harder to defend than the orthodox view. Orthodox Islam is already fraught with difficulties (such as Muhammadís violent acts and admitted susceptibility to demonic influence), but the Ahmadiyya sect compounds these difficulties by adding the outrageous claims of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
My final assessment of the Ahmadiyya sect is this: I agree with orthodox Muslims that the teachings of Islam preclude the rise of a prophet after Muhammad. Nevertheless, Ahmadis are extremely dedicated to Islam, and their doctrinal differences donít seem significant enough (to me) to call them non-Muslims.
2. Muslims are divided over the issue of Mubahala. Many Muslims hold that only Muhammad was qualified to call for a prayer-duel. Others believe that only groups of people may enter into one, and that everything must be in strict accordance with the practice as it is laid out in the Qurían and Sunnah. Still others maintain that any Muslim may challenge someone to a Mubahala, even if it will be between two individuals.
3. There are, however, some instances in the New Testament where curses are invoked. In Galatians, for instance, Paul says that the false teachers who were perverting the Gospel were "to be accursed" (1:9). Why then, are Christians unwilling to curse others? I think the answer lies in the biblical Godís attitude toward people, and the effect this attitude has on believers. According to the Bible, God loves everyone, so it is difficult to ask God to curse people when we know that He loves them (see Ephesians 2:4-5; John 3:16; 1 John 4:10; Romans 5:8). In contrast, the Qurían lists a number of groups who are outside of Godís love:
"Allah does not love those who exceed the limits" (2:190);
"Allah does not love any ungrateful sinner" (2:276);
"Allah does not love the unbelievers" (3:32);
"Allah does not love the unjust" (3:57);
"Allah does not love him who is proud, boastful" (4:36);
"[Allah] does not love the extravagant" (7:31);
"Allah does not love the treacherous" (8:58);
"Allah does not love the mischief-makers" (28:77);
"Allah does not love any arrogant boaster" (57:23).
We must remember here that many Muslims donít take these verses literally, and that there are verses in the Bible which, if taken literally, would mean that God hates certain people. Nevertheless, no one who has carefully studied the Bible would deny the fact that the overall emphasis is on Godís love for everyone. The Qurían lacks this emphasis. Hence, whereas the Bible stresses Godís universal love, the Qurían highlights Godís love only for those who do good. I suspect that this difference between Christianity and Islam produces a difference between certain Christians and Muslims. For many Muslims, there is nothing wrong with cursing enemies, since God doesnít love these enemies anyway. (Notice that verse 3:57, which says that God doesnít love the unjust, comes only a few lines before 3:61, where Muhammad explains the practice of Mubahala.) The concept of God in Islam may perhaps even account for the prevalence of terrorism against those who refuse to submit to Islam (whom God doesnít really love).
4. This rule would only apply to Muslims who believe that they may still take part in Mubahalas.
5. This may appear at though I am challenging Muslims to a Mubahala. However, as I stated above, I donít think that Christians should make such challenges. I am simply inviting Muslims to join together in prayer for the result of two Mubahalas that have already begun. I do this to allow all Muslims to play a part in this duel, so that no further challenges will be necessary.