Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Is God Able to Humble the Haughty? (Al Mudhill)

Roland Clarke

Momentous events have unfolded across the Middle East in 2011, climaxing with the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, self-proclaimed 'King of kings.' Few Muslims expressed regret with the earlier overthrow of two other corrupt dictators – Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarrak. But the response wasn't quite the same when Gaddafi fell. There was deep controversy in the African Union, many of whom are Gaddafi sympathizers, having been his lap-dogs (financially).

The vast majority of Libyans have no regrets at seeing Gaddafi removed from power, indeed, so also have most nations in the Arab League. But there's no denying the fact that many Muslims tend to overlook Gaddafi's flaws, reserving their harshest criticism for NATO and the US, who they feel, overstepped the UN mandate. Such critics prefer not to demonize Gaddafi, but instead, point accusing fingers at oil-hungry western powers.

Regardless of one's political leanings, one thing is certain: The prophets recorded examples of proud kings who were humbled by the Almighty (Arabs call him Al Mudhill – the Humiliator). After God punished the King of Babylon, he admitted, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.” (Daniel 4:37)

King Solomon, who is believed by Christians and Muslims to have been gifted with exceptional wisdom from God, said, “Before his downfall a man's heart is proud.” (Proverbs 18:12, NIV) And history has shown how true this statement is. Also notice: the Ahadith strongly condemns any mere mortal who claims to be “King of kings.” (Al Bukhari)

In light of these things, it is obvious that Gaddafi's downfall was warranted. He reaped what he sowed. Moreover, it is in keeping with what the prophet Daniel wrote, “Praise the name of God for ever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” (Daniel 2:20,21)

But one might ask, “Why do some people – Muslims also – find it hard to accept that God sovereignly operates behind human history working out his purposes?” Is it difficult to acknowledge that he works out his purposes – sometimes in ways that defy our understanding?

The fact is: some questions are baffling, e.g. “If God / Allah uses blameworthy (sinful) people to humiliate and punish Gaddafi, doesn't this make God complicit with evil?” In the final analysis, it is obvious that western nations do have faults, many of them. All people are sinful, no matter what nation they belong to. As the Scripture says, “all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are all under the power of sin … the entire world is guilty before God.” (Romans 3:9,19)

Keeping this in mind, let us rephrase the question, “Is it unjust for God to use a godless, even wicked nation as an instrument to humiliate or discipline others?”

Is God Just?

From a human view point, it may seem unreasonable and unfair for God to use a sinful alliance, like NATO, to overturn the Libyan regime. Interestingly, this dilemma is not unique to our modern times. The ancient prophets faced a similar dilemma. For example, the prophet Habakkuk was deeply perplexed at how the Lord could use the evil nation of Babylon to punish the Israelites.

On the one hand, he knew his own people – the Israelites – were disobedient, but he perceived the Babylonians as being even more wicked! How could God use them to judge the Israelites?

We see the prophet's anguish and perplexity in his prayer,

How long O LORD must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I for ever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? … The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

The LORD replied, “Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn't believe even if someone told you about it. I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people. They will march across the world and conquer other lands. On they come, all bent on violence. … But they are deeply guilty, for their own strength is their god.” (Habakkuk 1:2-11)

Here we see a clue that points Habakkuk to a resolution to his dilemma. Notice: God says the Babylonians are “deeply guilty.” (verse 11) Then Habakkuk replies,

O LORD my God, … you who are eternal – surely you do not plan to wipe us out? O LORD our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins. But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil. Will you wink at their treachery? Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they? (Habakkuk 1:12-13)

Some readers may feel a little uncomfortable at the way I have compared the Babylonian people with the NATO alliance (empowered primarily by USA). Bear in mind, I am not suggesting an exact correspondence – just some basic commonalities. Western nations, for example, are similar to Habakkuk's description, “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” (Habakkuk 2:4) Obviously there are some differences when we look at traits, such as the following; “They are notorious for their cruelty … bent on violence ...” (Habakkuk 1:7-9)

I encourage you to read all three chapters of Habakkuk's writing. As you read chapter 2 you will be encouraged to see the thrust of his message: The Lord affirms that he oversees the rise and fall of rulers who proudly strut on the stage of world politics. (Habakkuk 2:5) Not only so, the Lord predicts his name will be glorified worldwide and the splendor of wealthy oppressors will be turned to shame. (Habakkuk 2:14-16)

Salvation: A fitting celebration of praise

Habakkuk learned some profound things from his encounter with the LORD. His writing crescendos with an astonishing song, combining both trembling and joy! Habakkuk's song begins by recalling the song of Moses and Miriam as they celebrated being saved from Pharaoh at the Red Sea,

Was it in anger that you parted the Sea? Were you displeased …? No, you were sending your chariots of salvation... You went out to rescue your chosen people, to save your anointed ones. You crushed the heads of the wicked … With his own weapons you destroyed the chief of those who rushed out like a whirlwind, thinking Israel would be easy prey. … I trembled inside when I heard this … and I shook in terror. I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us. Even though the fig trees have no blossoms … and the fields lie empty and barren, even though the flocks die in the fields, … yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:8-18) [bold font added]

Habakkuk encouraged himself by anchoring his faith in the God of Moses – Yahweh – who proved his supremacy over all Egyptian idols by saving the Israelites from Pharaoh's powerful grip. Interestingly, the first of the Ten Commandments underscores this signature trait – God is mighty to save. It reads, “I am the LORD your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.” (Exodus 20:2,3) It is important to acknowledge that Jews and Christians aren't the only ones whose beliefs are strongly rooted to this cornerstone of the Torah / Tawrat. Muslims also feel this way. (more on this in the appendix)

Humility and Salvation

Our introduction hinted at humility by quoting from Solomon's wisdom, “Before his downfall a man's heart is proud.” No God-fearing person whether Christian or Muslim denies the importance of being humble. King David, the psalmist testified, “My heart is not proud, O LORD; my eyes are not haughty ... I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother ... You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.” (Psalm 131:1,2; Psalm 18:27, NIV)

If we ask, “Why does God save the humble?” the answer is simple: they show heartfelt repentance. As it is written, the LORD blesses “those who humble and contrite hearts.” (Isaiah 66:2; Psalm 51:16,17) Similarly, Jesus Christ said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)

I would be delighted to discuss these themes more with you. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.

All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.

May I refer interested readers to a set of 20 stories from God's Word which are relevant to the theme of humility? Three of these stories are specially worth noting; 'A Man After God's Heart,' 'Humility, Repentance and Tears,' 'The Last Will Be First.' They are available online.

Appendix: Do Muslims call Allah Savior?

In one sense, Muslims are to be commended because they believe Allah powerfully 'saved' the Israelites from Pharaoh, although, they take it for granted, if you know what I mean. Consequently, Muslims only have a shallow appreciation of what salvation means. For some reason, they don't believe God's saving power is important, i.e. praiseworthy. Their holy book doesn't cite Allah's awesome saving power at the Red Sea as a basis for praising him.

Similarly, nowhere does the Qur'an portray King David and other prophets underscoring Allah's saving acts as a reason to praise him. (This contrasts with the Bible which contains many such statements; Psalm 27:1-6; Psalm 68:19,20; Psalm 71:14-16; Psalm 96:1-4; Exodus 18:8-11; Daniel 3:23-28.)

As Christians, we respect Muslims for believing God saved Jonah from a perilous storm and a ravenous giant fish. Notice, however, the Qur'an does not quote Jonah as saying; “my salvation comes from God alone.” (Jonah 2:9) [bold font added for emphasis] Muslims tend to view Jonah's rescue as a deliverance from physical peril, but they forget there is a deeper meaning. The Bible indicates God saved him from sin and disobedience. How tragic that Muslim scholars have cunningly concocted the doctrine of sinlessness of the prophets, which obscures (or removes) a vital aspect of the meaning of salvation, i.e. in relation to sin!

Scripture declares the word of the LORD, “There is no other God but me, a righteous God and Savior. Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:21,22) [bold font added]

Does the Qur'an have a similar declaration? You are welcome to do your own search but I can assure you, you won't find one. The same observation holds true in relation to Biblical statements about heaven. The apostle John testified,

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9,10) [bold font added]

One finds a few statements in the Qur'an that imply heaven / paradise is a place of 'salvation.' However, make no mistake about it: Muslims do not acknowledge the glorious title, Savior, as found in the writings of the prophets. Yusuf Ismail, a leader in the Islamic International Propagation Centre, plainly told me that the Divine title, Savior, is like poison, thus revealing his true colors!

Appendix 2: Are there similarities between Saddam Hussein's overthrow and Gaddafi's?

One similarity is that many Muslims have blamed America as the primary instigator (or muscle) behind it. Interestingly, in the former case there was a drawn out war of resistance involving many devout Muslim suicide bombers who killed 12,284 civilians - mostly fellow Muslim Arabs. This astonishing death toll between 2003 and Dec. 2010 was reported in the highly reputed British Medical Journal Lancet (4th September 2011 as cited on CNN).

These observations raise some questions:

Will there be a drawn out war of resistance in Libya as there was in Iraq? God only knows. It is possible, I suppose, that many suicide bombers could be unleashed against the new regime (National Transition Council) alleging that they are collaborators and are puppets of America (NATO). However, one would hope they will think twice before doing this. Perhaps they will use common sense and admit: Gaddafi's overthrow was warranted. They might also say, "Insha'allah."

Will Muslims realise that shame has already been brought on their religion by the senseless slaughter of 12,000 (mostly Muslim) civilians in Iraq, and come to this conclusion: “Let's work constructively toward rebuilding our nation.”

This kind of reasoning seems logical from a democratic, humanitarian perspective but one hesitates to inspire hope, knowing there are sinister spiritual forces at work, i.e. Satan.

Muslims take the Devil very seriously. They also believe he is bound during the month of Ramadaan. Not only so, they believe that those who truly submit to Allah – fast properly – are shielded / protected from sin. Based on this, shouldn't we expect to see less violence across Arab Muslim countries? In particular, shouldn't we see lower numbers of suicide bombings in Iraq involving the death of fellow Muslim civilians? (e.g. during fasting month last year, 11th August 2010 to 9th September 2010.) The fact of the matter is: The British Medical Journal reported that during that one month last year there was a notable increase in civilian casualties. It reads, “But for Iraqis, August was one of the more deadly months of the year [2010]. On August 15, the country was struck by a barrage of suicide bombings, car bombs and gunfights that left 84 people dead and 200 wounded.”

We might ask a similar question in relation to the fasting month of 2011, “Were there significantly lower levels of violence in Muslim countries generally across the Middle East?” Did violence decrease in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia?

If you answer these questions honestly, I think you'll want to explore some heart-searching questions: “If Satan is not bound during Ramadaan, is there any hope of binding him on earth?” Can we ever expect a day when true peace will come to this war-torn world? The answer is found in the Messiah (Al Masihu Isa) the Prince of Peace, as foretold in the writings of the prophets.