Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Problems with the Islamic Doctrine of Atonement


More Proof That Bassam Zawadi and Co. Are Truth Impaired Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We continue from where we left off previously.

Muhammad Celebrates Yom Kippur!

It gets even better (or worse if you happen to be these taqiyyists)!

The Islamic traditions indicate that Muhammad initially prescribed fasting on the day of Ashura, being a day honored by both Jews and Christians:

Narrated Abu Musa:

The day of 'Ashura' was considered as 'Id day by the Jews. So the Prophet ordered, "I recommend you (Muslims) to fast on this day." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 223; *)

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:

I never saw the Prophet seeking to fast on a day more (preferable to him) than this day, the day of 'Ashura', or this month, i.e. the month of Ramadan. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 224)

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: When the Prophet came to Medina, he found (the Jews) fasting on the day of 'Ashura' (i.e. 10th of Muharram). They used to say: "This is a great day on which Allah saved Moses and drowned the folk of Pharaoh. Moses observed the fast on this day, as a sign of gratitude to Allah." The Prophet said, "I am closer to Moses than they." So, he observed the fast (on that day) and ordered the Muslims to fast on it. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 609)

Ibn 'Abbas reported that when the Messenger of Allah fasted on the day of 'Ashura and commanded that it should he observed as a fast, they (his Companions) said to him: Messenger of Allah, it is a day which the Jews and Christians hold in high esteem. Thereupon the Messenger of Allah said: When the next year comes, God willing, we would observe fast on the 9th. But the Messenger of Allah died before the advent of the next year. (Sahih Muslim, Book 006, Number 2528; *)

What many don’t realize is that Ashura was the Jewish Day of Atonement, known as Yom Kippur!

“But before that turning away from the Jews occurred, room must be made for the appearance of other notions absent from the Meccan suras and indicative of a positive and more appreciative sense of the Jewish religious experience. There is, for example, this tradition about fasting on 'The Tenth' (ashura) preserved by Tabari among others:

According to Abu Ja'far (al-Tabari): In this year [2 A.H., that is, 624 A.D.], it is said, the fast of Ramadan was prescribed, and it is said that it was prescribed in Sha'ban. When the prophet came to Medina he saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He questioned them and they told him it was the day on which God drowned the people of the Pharaoh and so saved Moses and those with him from them. ‘We have a better right to Moses than they have,' and he fasted and ordered the people to fast with him. When the Fast of Ramadan was prescribed, he did not order them to fast on Ashura, nor did he forbid them to do so. (Tabari, Annals, vol. 1, p. 1281 = Tabari 1987, pp. 25-26)

“There is another version as well, reported on the authority of Aisha… Although the first of the traditions has the coloring of somewhat later anti-Jewish polemic, there may be something authentic in the second, with its overt admission that Muhammad observed the fast of ‘the Tenth' even before Islam. The 'Tenth' in question is not the later tenth of Muharram but the Jews' tenth of Tishri, that is, Yom Kippur. And according to this tradition, Muhammad continued the apparently obligatory practice of sanctifying that day until shortly after his arrival in Medina–and a hostile confrontation with the Jews there?–when the fast of Ramadan was prescribed and that of Ashura made optional. The veneration of Ashura continued, however, but was effectively severed from its Jewish prototype, which was a seasonally adjusted holy day that annually fell at the end of September, when before his death Muhammad forbade Jewish-type calendar adjustments to Muslims, and Ashura began to be celebrated on the tenth day of the first Muslim month, Muharram.

“If this tradition is true, as it almost certainly is, why did Muhammad prescribe fasting on the tenth day of the first month of the Jewish calendar, the solemn day the Jews called the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, and known in the Arab tradition as 'the Tenth,' Ashura? The Prophet's sense of the identity of his mission with that of Moses before him is already explicitly asserted in the Meccan suras, in 11:17, for example, 'Before it [the Quran] there was the Book of Moses, given as a guide and an act of mercy, and this (Quran) is a book confirming it in the Arabic language'; or this in Sura 28:48-49: They say 'Why are there not come (signs) like those sent to Moses?' Do they not disbelieve (also) on what was earlier sent to Moses? They say: 'Two sorceries assisting each other.' And they say, 'As for us, we reject all (such). Say: 'Then make come a Book from God which is a better guide than these two.'

“If these are Meccan insights, what Muhammad may have learned new at Medina is that the Jews had a solemn day, 'the Tenth,' on which they commemorated the 'sending down' of the Torah on Sinai. That would explain not only the new fast of Ashura, but the appearance of another new idea in the Quran, the 'sending down' of the Quran on a single night, though it is no longer being identified as Ashura but in what must be a Medina sura as the 'Night of Destiny'… The replacement of the Jew's Ashura as the 'moment' of revelation with the old Arabian New Year 'Night of Destiny' is transparently another function of Muhammad's initial attraction to Jewish practices and his subsequent distancing from them, all in the brief interval between his arrival in Medina period and the battle of Badr some two years later.” (F. E. Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1994], pp. 203-206; bold emphasis ours


“As we have already seen, there was a tradition that Muhammad took up for himself and others the Jewish custom of fasting on 'The Tenth' (ashura) of the Month of Tishri, the day known as Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement. It was, as the name itself suggests, a day of penitence, but it marked as well the annually celebrated anniversary of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Sinai. Muhammad discontinued the Ashura, or at least made it purely voluntary, and on the apparent testimony of the Quran substituted for it the fast of the full month of Ramadan. And the reason is the same as that which had made the Ashura attractive in the first place, a connection with the revelation of the Quran… (Quran 2:185).” (Ibid, p. 215)

What makes this day rather significant is that this was the time when God commanded that sacrifices be made for the forgiveness of all of Israel’s transgressions and wickedness!

“And HaShem spoke unto Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before HaShem, and died; and HaShem said unto Moses: 'Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the ark-cover which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I appear in the cloud upon the ark-cover. Herewith shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin-offering, and a ram for a burnt-offering. He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with the linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired; they are the holy garments; and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and put them on. And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two he-goats for a sin-offering, and one ram for a burnt-offering. And Aaron shall present the bullock of the sin-offering, which is for himself, and MAKE ATONEMENT for himself, and for his house. And he shall take the two goats, and set them before HaShem at the door of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for HaShem, and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot fell for HaShem, and offer him for a sin-offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before HaShem, to MAKE ATONEMENT over him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness. And Aaron shall present the bullock of the sin-offering, which is for himself, and shall MAKE ATONEMENT for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin-offering which is for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from off the altar before HaShem, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil. And he shall put the incense upon the fire before HaShem, that the cloud of the incense may cover the ark-cover that is upon the testimony, that he die not. And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the ark-cover on the east; and before the ark-cover shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times. Then shall he kill the goat of the sin-offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with his blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the ark-cover, and before the ark-cover. And he shall MAKE ATONEMENT for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even ALL their sins; and so shall he do for the tent of meeting, that dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. And there shall be no man in the tent of meeting when he goeth in to make atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel. And he shall go out unto the altar that is before HaShem, and make atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleannesses of the children of Israel. And when he hath made an end of atoning for the holy place, and the tent of meeting, and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him ALL the iniquities of the children of Israel, and ALL their transgressions, even ALL their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of an appointed man into the wilderness. And the goat shall BEAR UPON HIM ALL THEIR INIQUITIES unto a land which is cut off; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. And Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there. And he shall bathe his flesh in water in a holy place and put on his other vestments, and come forth, and offer his burnt-offering and the burnt-offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. And the fat of the sin-offering shall he make smoke upon the altar. And he that letteth go the goat for Azazel shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. And the bullock of the sin-offering, and the goat of the sin-offering, whose blood was brought in TO MAKE ATONEMENT in the holy place, shall be carried forth without the camp; and they shall burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung. And he that burneth them shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. And it shall be a statute for ever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from ALL your sins shall ye be clean before HaShem. It is a sabbath of solemn rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; it is a statute for ever. And the priest, who shall be anointed and who shall be consecrated to be priest in his father's stead, shall make the atonement, and shall put on the linen garments, even the holy garments. And he shall MAKE ATONEMENT for the most holy place, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar; and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make atonement for the children of Israel because of ALL their sins once in the year.' And he did as HaShem commanded Moses.” Leviticus 16:1-34 JPS

Hence, Muhammad commemorated a day in which God prescribed vicarious sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins!

In fact, Muhammad even believed that fasting on this day would actually atone for all the sins committed the previous year!

“… He ('Umar) said: What is the position of him who observes fast for a day and breaks on the other day? Thereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: That is the fast of David (peace be upon him). He ('Umar) said: What about him who observes fast one day and breaks it for two days. Thereupon he (the Messenger of Allah) said: I wish, I were given strength to observe that. Thereafter he said: The observance of three days' fast every Month and that of Ramadan every year is a perpetual fasting. I seek from Allah that fasting on the day of 'Arafa may atone for the sins of the preceding and the coming years. And I seek from Allah that fasting on the day of Ashura may atone for the sins of the preceding year.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 006, Number 2602; *)


“… He was asked about fasting on the day of 'Arafa (9th of Dhu'I-Hijja), whereupon he said: It expiates the sins of the preceding year and the coming year. He was asked about fasting on the day of 'Ashura (10th of Muharram), whereupon be said: It expiates the sins of the preceding year. (Imam Muslim said that in this hadith there is a) narration of Imam Shu'ba that he was asked about fasting on Monday and Thursday, but we (Imam Muslim) did not mention Thursday for we found it as an error (in reporting). (Sahih Muslim, Book 006, Number 2603)

It is therefore evident that Muhammad actually believed that atonement was not only important, but also essential for procuring the forgiveness of sins.

The Story of Abraham Sacrificing His Son

Another indication of Muhammad’s belief in the need for atonement for salvation can be seen from the Quranic account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in direct obedience to Allah’s will.

The Muslim scripture states that Allah ransomed Abraham’s son from being killed with a great sacrifice after his father passed the test:

And We RANSOMED him (wafadaynahu) with a tremendous (azim) sacrifice,43 (37:108) and left him thus to be remembered among later generations:44 "Peace be upon Abraham!" S. 37:107-109 Muhammad Asad

Now the immediate questions which naturally come to mind are, why did Allah have to ransom the son at all? Why not simply tell Abraham that he and his son were now free to go since they passed the test? And what was this tremendous sacrifice which Allah offered as a ransom to save Abraham’s son from dying?

Since the Quran doesn’t answer these questions, it was left to the Muslim scholars to explain.

According to the late Muhammad Asad, the sacrifice refers to the ram that Genesis 22 says God provided in the place of Ishmael (sic)!

43 The epithet 'azim ("tremendous" or "mighty") renders it improbable that this sacrifice refers to nothing but the ram which Abraham subsequently found and slaughtered in Ishmael's stead (Genesis xxii, 13). To my mind, the sacrifice spoken of here is the one repeated every year by countless believers in connection with the pilgrimage to Mecca (al-hajj), which, in itself, commemorates the experience of Abraham and Ishmael and constitutes one of the "five pillars" of Islam. (See 22:27-37, as well as 2:196-203.)

Some of the Muslims even believed that the ram that God provided was actually from paradise itself:

Then We ransomed him, the one whom he had been commanded to sacrifice, namely, Ishmael or Isaac — two different opinions — with a mighty sacrifice, [a mighty] ram from Paradise, the same one that Abel had offered as sacrifice: Gabriel, peace be upon him, brought it and the lord Abraham sacrificed it as he cried, Allāhu akbar, ‘God is Great’. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; bold emphasis ours)

Other scholars like the renowned Muslim historian and exegete al-Tabari believed that it referred to the Islamic practice of slaughtering animals which is supposed to ward off an evil death (at least according to him):

“… God’s words, ‘We ransomed him with a tremendous victim,’ do not only refer to this sacrifice, but rather to the practice of slaughtering animals according to His religion, for that is the sunna until the Day of Resurrection. Know that sacrifice wards off an evil death, SO SACRIFICE, O servants of God!” (The History of Al-Tabari: Prophets and Patriarchs, translated by William M. Brinner [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1987], Volume II, p. 96; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Yet in order to fully understand the significance of the ransom we need to turn to the Holy Bible, since this is basically where the Quran got the story:

“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.’ Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ And he said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’ Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering IN THE PLACE OF HIS SON. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.’” Genesis 22:1-14

Now it begins to make sense. Yahweh had ordered Abraham to present his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering in order to test Abraham’s love and faithfulness. When Yahweh saw Abraham’s willingness to go through with it, the Lord then intervened and provided a ram as a burnt offering in the place of Isaac.

What makes this story rather significant is that burnt offerings were ordained for the specific purpose of making atonement in order to appease God’s wrath so that he could then look favorably upon those who would turn to him in sincere repentance:

“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And WHEN the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’” Genesis 8:20-21

“Then you shall take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and shall take its blood and throw it against the sides of the altar. Then you shall cut the ram into pieces, and wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and its head, and burn the whole ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD. It is a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD.” Exodus 29:15-18 – cf. vv. 25, 41

“The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, “When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement (lakapper) for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.” Leviticus 1:1-9 – cf. vv. 13, 17

Hence, by including this story within the Quran, Muhammad was basically giving tacit support for the centrality and necessity of vicarious sacrifices for salvation.

These examples from the Quran demonstrate that sacrifices such as burnt offerings for the forgiveness of sins has been the sunna, so to speak, of God from the very beginning.

And since the Quran states that there is no changing to God’s sunna, which naturally includes the way in which he deals with the issue of sin,

(This was Our) Sunnah (rule or way) with the Messengers We sent before you (O Muhammad), and you will not find any alteration in Our Sunnah (RULE or way, etc.). S. 17:77 Hilali-Khan

That was the way (sunnata) of Allah in the case of those who passed away of old; thou wilt not find for the way (lisunnati) of Allah aught of power to change. S. 33:62 Pickthall

Arrogance on earth, and evil scheming… The evil schemes only backfire on those who scheme them. Were they expecting anything different from the sunna used on the people of the past? You will not find ANY CHANGE in God 's sunna. S. 35:43 Quran: A Reformist Translation (QRT)

Such has ever been the law (sunnata) of ALLAH; and thou shalt not find any change in the law (lisunnati) of ALLAH. S. 48:23 Sher Ali

This means that substitutionary atonement is essential and necessary for attaining peace with God through the forgiveness of sins.

This brings us to the next part of our rebuttal.