THE FALL OF THE HUMAN RACE
Khwaja Kamal ud-Din
Mawlawi Muhammad Ali
Sultan Muhammad Khan Paul
(A Muslim-Christian Dialogue on Original Sin
Summarized, Translated and Annotated by Ernest Hahn)
While Christians have traditionally taught the fall of Adam and the depravity of mankind as a result of his fall, generally Muslims, whatever their attitude towards the fall of Adam may be, have rejected any idea of inherited sin and asserted the natural innocence of his descendants.
In his article, La notion de "péché originel" éxiste-t-elle dans l'Islam?, G.C. Anawati notes how Adam repented of his sin and how God accepted his repentance, chose him, pardoned him and guided him (20:122). He then quotes from the well known Muslim publication, Al-Manar, to demonstrate the importance of this verse for Muslims:
Bauman, referring to Adam's repentance and God's forgiveness (Qur'an 2:38),2 echoes Muslim opinion:
We note first that this idea has cut off, once and for all, the possibility of any development of a teaching of inherited sin, for Adam's fall has no immediate consequences for later generations.
Human nature after the fall also is determined by fitra - the natural human condition.3
Anawati concludes his essay as follows:
Islam admits an original fall for Adam and Eve, our first parents, created at first in a state of innocence. But this fall has had only personal consequences. Moreover, their fault has been forgiven. The idea of an original sin transmitted by Adam to his descendants is absolutely opposed to the teaching of Islam.
Man has been created to be the vice-regent of God on earth. He is both soul and body. From this duality naturally results a fight between the two elements, though it cannot be said that this fight is a consequence of the original error. The devil takes advantage of the opposition to "tempt" man and to lead him to transgress the law of God. But this action of the devil is not a consequence of the original sin of Adam; prior to the fall, even before Adam had disobeyed, Satan had decided to pass his time on earth in tempting man.4
In the American publication, What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims, Suzanne Haneef, a convert to Islam, writes:
... The notion of Original Sin is one which Islam emphatically denies, affirming that every human being comes into the world innocent and sinless. Accordingly, he will be held accountable only for what he himself inscribes upon the unblemished tabula rasa of his nature, not for what his ancestor Adam (or anyone else whosoever) did or did not do .... Hence, to attribute to God, the Forgiving and Merciful, His laying upon each new-born infant the intolerable burden of a sin committed by his remotest ancestor would appear to be a denial of His unquestionable attributes of justice, mercy, kindness and compassion toward His creatures. And to further claim that the taint of this sin is certain to put every human being into Hell for all eternity unless the Deity sacrifices Himself for His creatures whom He is able to, and should if He is indeed Just and Merciful, forgive, is a denial not only of His unfailing justice and good-will toward His creation but also, it would seem, of His wisdom, logic and reasonableness.5
No doubt, most informed Muslims uphold the position of Adam's descendants as represented in the above quotations. But is it the sole, tenable position of Muslims? Is it possible that Islamic sources reveal a position which may be less optimistic about the condition of Adam and of Adam's descendants after his fall or because of his fall, or a position which may even contradict the view generally accepted by Muslims?
With these and other questions in mind the verbal and written discussions of the Christian, Sultan Muhammad Khan Paul, and two Muslim leaders of the Lahore Jama'at-i Ahmadiyya, Khwaja Kamal ud-Din and Mawlawi Muhammad Ali, which have been incorporated into the Urdu publication, The Fall off the Human Race (Hubut-i Nasl-i Insani), are worthy of consideration by anyone concerned with the subject.6 Hence also the title of this essay.
Khwaja Kamal ud-Din and Mawlawi Muhammad Ali naturally espouse Ahmadi opinions on the subject. Though their views on the subject may differ at points from classical Islamic views, it was felt that there is little need to distinguish between them here. More space is devoted to the arguments of Sultan Muhammad Khan Paul, since they are longer in the original work and make generous use of Islamic sources relevant to the topic. In any case it is hoped that the summaries of the arguments by the three participants fairly represent their respective positions, and that this essay as a whole may assist both Muslim and Christian readers toward a profounder grasp of the nature of sin, its individual and corporate presence and consequences, and its significance in heavenly and earthly realms.8
The principal Quranic passages under discussion are the following:
THE FALL OF THE HUMAN RACE (A Summary)
Khwaja Kamal ud-Din's Argument
Sin is punishable; an error inadvertently committed is not punishable. Adam committed only an error, not a sin. His error was forgetfulness, which he committed inadvertently. Hence he was forgiven; he recovered and suffered no evil effects from his act. Even though his perfect virtue (jannat, garden or heaven, is a state of virtue, not a garden or any place)9 was impaired for a moment, it was quickly restored.
Sultan Muhammad Khan Paul's Argument
Adam's action, whether committed intentionally or unintentionally, was against the law (khilaf-i qanun, khilaf-i shar'); hence it was a sin and required forgiveness. According to the Qur'an, God had warned Adam that Satan was his enemy and that he would become a wrongdoer if he came near the tree. Satan deceived Adam and Eve, pretended he was their friend, contradicted God's words in their presence and finally expelled them from the garden. "Adam disobeyed his Lord, so went astray" (20:121). Adam became rebellious. He became covetous. There was no constancy in Adam (20:115). No longer did he remain in the state in which he was born. If the error was unintentional, then why was punishment given? From all this it is evident that Adam's action can only be described as sin, not forgetfulness. So "it is also our (Christian) belief that Adam sinned and was punished."
Be the garden a state of virtue or a place, Adam and Eve were cast out of it. Their punishment was threefold: They were cast out of the garden; their nakedness was exposed; each was an enemy to the other in the world.
Normally Adam and Eve were addressed with a dual form of the verb. Why then, all of a sudden, does the plural form appear: "Go down, all of you from hence" (ihbitu: "fall down"; 2:38, cf. 2:36)? This passage indicates that their descendants also were affected by the punishment.
Mawlana Muhammad Ali's Argument
... - the nature (fitra), (framed) of Allah, in which He hath created man. There is no altering (the laws of) Allah's creation. That is the right religion, but most men know not - ... (30:30)
Muhammad Ali's Urdu translation of this verse reads in English:
Remain firm in the nature framed by Allah in which He created people in the original state. There is no altering the state framed by Allah. This is the right religion, but most men know not.
Muhammad Ali continues his discussion on this verse by noting that Muhammad commented:
Fitra is Islam. Then he added: The child of every person is born in the state of nature (fitrat ki halat men), that is Islam. His mother and father make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian.
Islam teaches that all children are born free from sin. Just as forcefully it asserts that most people do not know this.
He then states:
i) True, people may be changed to believe that a newly born child is under the wrath of God, is a slave to Satan and, unbaptized, goes straight to hell. But the final victory will rest with Islam, which affirms that a child is sinless at birth.
ii) Apart from the sole exception of a reference in Paul's writings the Bible says nothing about the Christian doctrine of original sin. If it were a fact, surely the Gospel accounts would have reported some saying of Jesus about the sinfulness of mankind through Adam's sin.
iii) The Christian doctrine is preposterous. Was Adam born sinless or a sinner? If a man is a sinner, what is the point of the law and temptation? It would be as foolish for one, who accepts the Christian belief about original sin, to hope that man would not sin as to hope that a child born blind would see. Then after Christians despair of Biblical support for their belief, they attempt to establish their claim by referring to the Qur'an.
O Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you as he caused your (first) parents to go forth from the Garden .... (7:27)
Muhammad Ali's Urdu translation reads in English as follows:
O Children of Adam! Let not Satan put you in grief (dukh men na dale) as he caused ....10
He comments further:
Satan deceived them and they disobeyed God's order, though they did not sin. For the prerequisite for sin is the will (irada). But the Qur'an clearly testifies about Adam: "He forgot and we found no will in him" (20:115).11 Moreover, in one place his disobedience is described as zallat, zallat being that which occurs apart from intention (qasd) and will (irada). "But Satan caused them to deflect." (2:36)
Thus the Qur'an does not say that Adam sinned. The Qur'an calls what he did "a slip" (laghzish, zallat), a result of forgetfulness, that in no way involved his descendants.
The sole result of Adam's disobedience was his departure from the garden. But his descendants were not at all involved in this departure. True, the Qur'an speaks about the state of hubut of all mankind. But Adam's departure (ikhraj) from the garden and this state of hubut are not to be equated. Otherwise why does the Qur'an (2:36) mention them together? The meaning of hubut becomes clear from what follows: v. 37 speaks of God's mercy towards Adam and then in v. 38 the order of hubut is again given. This sequence clearly demonstrates that "hubut absolutely cannot be categorized as punishment, nor is it a result of Adam's disobedience, but is another condition (kayfiyyat)." The relevant passages in Qur'an 7 and 20 confirm this sequence. Adam's state of disobedience and his punishment were temporary.
Thus the children of Adam remain unaffected by Adam's action and the result of the action. If they had shared in Adam's expulsion from the garden, then the Quranic statement: "O Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you as he caused your (first) parents to go forth from the garden ...." becomes meaningless. The state of hubut has no connection with sinfulness or with the result of Adam's disobedience.
What then is the state of hubut? The story of Satan's confrontation (muqabila) with Adam is the story of Satan's confrontation with every man and the necessary ingredient for any human progress. Satan is the manifestation of these carnal desires associated with the human body, which one must subdue or by which one must be subdued, as the case may be. But it cannot be that Satan always conquers.12
By nature man indeed was created sinless. But by nature he must possess this weakness whereby he might even be subdued sometimes in the confrontation with Satan. This is the whole secret of his progress. If by nature he were made in such a manner that he could never even break God's law, then his state would be like that of the sun, moon, stars, etc., which can never deviate in the slightest from their appointed course. But then in no way would man excel over other things.... It was therefore necessary that he be placed in a state of confrontation. Since danger is inevitable in confrontation, therefore it (this confrontation) is called the state of hubut.
This danger serves as a warning for man, not in the sense that he has slipped or must slip. After the confrontation "Whoso followeth My guidance, there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve" (2:38). This passage follows the story of Adam. Or, in other words:
It is as if God explained to all mankind: You all must confront Satan, and while confronting (him) you must make him obedient to you. After the confrontation the garden (jannat) to be entered is the real garden, which is the object and end of the life of man. His first garden is to be born in the state of innocence. But confrontation is necessary to remain in this state of innocence. Then man can progress in this garden of innocence. If from birth man is a sinner, then it is impossible for him to remain in innocence, because how is he who is naturally a sinner to proceed against his nature? And if a man is born sinless but confronts no opposition or dangers, he remains obedient just as all things naturally are obedient to the law, that is, he remains constant in his natural innocence. But then he acquires no excellence beyond these things, nor is there any way for him to progress. Hence man needs the condition of hubut so that he might progress in the face of confrontation by continuing steadfastly in the state of natural innocence....
It is wrong to think that initially Adam was somewhere in heaven and that because of his disobedience he and his descendants "fell from there and came to earth". The Qur'an clearly states about the creation of Adam: "I am about to place a viceroy in the earth." (2:30)
Inevitably that garden also is on this same earth. Though this topic requires a separate explanation, here this much must be said that to be born in a state of innocence is in itself that garden. Inherent within the nature of this garden is the real danger of departing from it; yet when man has progressed from this garden and reaches the next garden, he can never depart from it.
Sultan Muhammad Paul's Argument
In the light of Mawlana Muhammad Ali's translation of Surah 30:30 and his comments on this verse, three questions arise:
Nothing in Qur'an 30:30 proves that man is free from sin from birth. Nor does the hadith quoted by Muhammad Ali state that "fitra is Islam" - an addition which is only Bukhari's personal commentary. The hadith, to which Qur'an 30:30 is added, is:
Abu Huraira reported God's messenger as saying, "Every child is born in fitra, but his parents make him a Jew, a Christian, or a Magian; just as a beast is born whole. Do you find some among them (born) maimed?" Then he was saying, "God's pattern on which He formed (fitra) mankind. There is no alteration of God's creation. That is true religion."13
Even Muhammad Ali in the English translation of the Quranic commentary does not translate fitra by "Islam" but by "the true religion". A member of any one religion considers that religion to be the true religion. Still no one need be surprised when Muslims equate fitra with Islam.
Nevertheless not all Hadith commentators agree with this equation. One of these commentators writes that `ala`l-fitra means that "a child is born with a type of condition or disposition that facilitates reception of any religion. Barring a catastrophe, he will always remain in it." Jurjani writes that "fitra is that natural disposition (jibillah) which may be ready for the reception of any religion". Ibn Mubarak, a renowned specialist of Hadith, writes about this hadith:
Every child is born into his own natural (fitrati) happiness or misery according to the knowledge of God. Then each one of them will be present at the end with the same nature (fitra) with which he was created and likewise acted in this world. One of the signs of misery is to be born among Jews or Magians, because they will make him miserable on account of their religious belief.
The following hadith indicates the unfortunate destiny of children born to infidels:
`A`isha said: I asked, "Messenger of God, what happens to offspring of believers?" He replied, "They are joined to their parents." I asked, "Although they have done nothing, messenger of God?" He replied, "God knows best what they were doing." I asked, "What happens to the offspring of polytheists?" He replied, "They are joined to their parents." I asked, "Although they have done nothing?" He replied, "God knows best what they were doing."14
Two other traditions in Bukhari reveal Muhammad's reluctance to predict the destiny of children born to infidels: children who, being born innocent like all children, would go to heaven, according to Mawlana Muhammad Ali's argument.
Did God, then, create all in a perfect state, as Mawlana Muhammad Ali claims? In fact both the Hadith and the Qur'an demonstrate the creation of people in two states:
Ibn Mas'ud said that God's messenger who spoke the truth and whose word was believed told them the following: The constituents of one of you are collected for forty days in his mother's womb in the form of a drop, then they become a piece of congealed blood for a similar period, then they become a lump of flesh for a similar period. Then God sends to him an angel with four words who records his deeds, the period of his life, his provision, and whether he will be miserable or blessed; thereafter He breathes the spirit into him. By Him other than whom there is no god, one of you will do the deeds of those who go to paradise so that there will only be a cubit between him and it, then what is decreed will overcome him so that he will do the deeds of those who go to hell and will enter it; and one of you will do the deeds of those who go to hell so that there will be only a cubit between him and it, then what is decreed will overcome him so that he will do the deeds of those who go to paradise and will enter it.15
Anas bin Malik reported that he heard God's messenger say: "God appoints an angel over the womb of a mother who says: 'O Lord, now there is a drop; O Lord, now there is congealed blood; O Lord, now there is a lump of flesh.' When God wished to complete His creation, then (the angel) said: 'O Lord, is it male or female? Miserable or happy? What is its provision and when does it die?' All of this is written when it is in the womb of its mother."16
'Abdallah b. 'Amr reported that he heard God's messenger say, "God created His creatures in darkness17 and cast some of His light upon them. Those on whom some of that light falls will have guidance, but those who are missed by it will go astray. On that account I say that the pen has no more to write about God's knowledge."18
The latter hadith especially, which states that all mankind (and jinn) are born in darkness, conflicts with the claim of Muhammad Ali that God created all mankind in a perfect state.
The following passage is only one among many Quranic passages that reveal mankind's degraded condition:
Allah would make the burden light for you, for man was created weak. (4:28)
Sultan Muhammad Paul then comments:
May I respectfully ask you (Mawlana Muhammad Ali) to tell us if (the state of) weakness can be a perfect state. Can you call something which is naturally weak, perfect? In your English commentary on the Qur'an you have commented that "the meaning of the weakness of man can only be that he could not make for himself a way which was free from error". If the capacity of man is such that he cannot even make for himself a way which is free from error, what greater misfortune can he have than this? What further doubt can there be about his defective condition? We also think that man (not God) has made himself so bad that he now can do no work which is free from error.
In response to Muhammad Ali's claim that the Quranic passage, "Most men know not" (30:30), refers to those who deny man is born innocent, one may refer to Genesis 1:26,27 and Ecclesiastes 7:29, noting that man was created sinless but altered his condition by abusing his freedom.19 The Bible speaks very clearly on the matter. And thus the Qur'an says: "Adam disobeyed his Lord, so went astray." (20:121)
Sultan Muhammad Paul then responds to the other objections raised by Mawlana Muhammad Ali:
In fact, he notes, Muslims as well as Christians have reckoned Adam to be a sinner and the whole human race to be inheritors of his sin. Thus a tradition reads:
Abu Huraira reported God's messenger as saying, "When God created Adam He wiped his back and every soul of his offspring He was to create up to the day of resurrection fell from his back. He put on the forehead of everyone of them a flash of light, then presented them to Adam who asked, 'My Lord, who are these?' He replied, 'Your offspring.' On seeing one of them and being charmed by the flash on his forehead he asked, 'My Lord, who is this?' He replied, 'David.' He asked, 'My Lord, how long a term of life hast Thou appointed him?' He replied, 'Sixty years.' He said, 'My Lord, give him an extra forty years out of my term of life.'" God's messenger said, "When Adam's period of life all but forty years had come to an end the angel of death came to him. Adam said, 'Are there not forty years of my life remaining?' He replied, 'Did you not give them to your son David?' Adam denied it and his offspring denied; Adam forgot and ate of the tree and his offspring forgot; and Adam sinned and his offspring sinned."20
The philosophers point to a power in man which they call nafs-i ammarah or quwwat-i bahimi (carnal desire). From the effects of all events occurring in the course of human history from the fall of Adam until the present that have directly impinged upon man's spiritual growth, man's carnal desire subdues his angelic (malaki) power and thus, through its evil influence, enfeebles his desire for good. This influence and effect is called, in Christian technical language, "inherited sin", for in the course of human history it begins with Adam.
Inherited sin is a fact. But from this Muhammad Ali's conclusion that every child (or anyone) is an inheritor of hell and every unbaptized child goes straight to hell does not follow. (See Ezekiel 18:20; Jeremiah 31:29,30; Matthew 19:13,14.) Everyone is responsible for his own actions. God's atonement relates not only to the effects of inherited sin but actual sin also. Baptism is not a prerequisite for salvation; witness the members of the Salvation Army who are truly Christian. Yet what wonderful examples many of them have been for those who would enter the Kingdom of God!
To reinforce his arguments that Adam was created sinless, Sultan Muhammad Paul quotes James Orr (The Christian View of God and the World), who rejects the idea that sin belonged to man's original constitution. "The Bible teaches that evil in the world is created by evil itself and that the nature (fitra) of mankind at the beginning of creation was free from it and unstained."
Other traditions further illustrate the condition of children:
`A`isha said: God's messenger was invited to the funeral of a boy who belonged to the Ansar and I said, "Messenger of God, this one is blessed; he is one of the young ones in paradise, for he has done no evil, being too young for that. "He replied, "It may be otherwise, `A`isha, for God has created some to go to paradise, doing so when they were still in their fathers' loins; and He has created others for hell, doing so when they were still in their fathers' loins.21
Why the hesitation to call a child born of Muslim, even Ansar, parents "heavenly" (jannati) if children are born without sin?
The prophet said: "God created the children of Adam in different ranks. Some are born as believers, live as believers, and die as believers. Some are born as infidels, live as infidels, and die as infidels. Some are born as believers, live as believers and die as infidels. Some are born as infidels, live as infidels and die as believers."22
In the light of this tradition does Islam really teach that the child of everyone is born sinless? Is the infidel sinless? Moreover this hadith too warns us against declaring the destiny of anyone, be he a child, a youth or an old man.
When Mawlana Muhammad Ali states that Satan deceived Adam and Eve and disobeyed God's order, he really contradicts this by adding "though they did not sin. For the prerequisite of sin is the will to sin. If a person does not commit sin when he is seduced by Satan and disobeys the will of God, how does he become a sinner? They acted against the very words of the Qur'an that they "follow not the footsteps of the devil" (2:168) and demonstrated what Muhammad Ali himself wrote: "By nature he must possess this weakness whereby he might even be subdued sometime in the confrontation with Satan."
If to be overcome by Satan or to follow Satan's footsteps and thereby disobey God is not sin, then I (Sultan) think that in this world there remains neither the existence of sin nor the sinner.
If the blame for their sin is shifted to Satan, why not shift the blame to Satan for the sin of anyone? As the poet writes: "If you yourself commit a sin, curse Satan." More so, if you did not want to do it.
Did Adam and Eve really forget the command of God? In fact the Quranic texts (7:19-22; 20:121) strongly suggest that Satan, while deceiving them, even reminded them of God's commands, that they were aware of God's commands and that they finally heeded Satan's words because of their covetousness. Hence the normal translation of nasiya as "he forgot" is in this context against the intention of the Qur'an, even contradicts it, and is correctly translated by us ne tark kiya ("he forsook"), just as Muhammad Ali has translated in his English commentary (9:67): "They (the hypocrites) have forsaken (nasu) Allah, so He has forsaken them (nasiyyahum)." Likewise here, azam is better translated not as will" (irada) but as "constancy" or "firmness": "We found no constancy in him." (20:115)
"And Adam disobeyed his Lord, so went astray" (20:121): This passage alone suffices to prove that Adam forsook God's command and that he did not merely forget it. Other passages: "Man is made of haste" (21:37) and "Man was created anxious" (70:19) further describe the inconstancy of Adam and how he succumbed to Satan's machinations and forsook God's command.
"But Satan caused them to deflect (azalla) therefrom" (2:36): Grammatically it is more correct to translate azalla (infinitive: izlal): Shaytan ne Adam awr Hawa ko gunah par bar-angekhta kiya ("Satan incited Adam and Eve to sin"). Adam's sin cannot be called merely lagzish or zallat ("slip").
Moreover, to repeat, the consequences of his sin were many (not one, as Mawlana Muhammad Ali says): They were cast out of the garden; their shame became apparent to them; their provision for life on earth became temporary; the one became a foe to the other. It has already been demonstrated that their descendants shared in the fall.
Are the fall (hubut) and the expulsion (ikhraj) different? We read that God ordered Iblis as follows: "He said: Then go down hence (ihbit)! It is not for thee to show pride here, so go forth! Lo! thou art of those degraded" (7:13). Previously Muhammad Ali had said:
The state of confrontation with Satan is the state of hubut. All humanity must pass through this state. All his progress depends on it.... You all must confront Satan, and while confronting (him) now must make him obedient to you. After the confrontation the garden to be entered is the true garden.
Comparing Qur'an 7:13 with Muhammad Ali's definition of hubut, are we then to conclude that Satan must oppose Satan, make him obedient to himself, and thereafter enter the true garden? Or that Satan is to oppose all mankind, make them obedient to him and after the confrontation, the garden he enters will be the true garden? In fact "ihbitu" simply means "all of you go out of the garden" or "descend" or "go outside"; or even "go out, all of you degraded, from it". They are cast out because of their degradation which they inherited from Adam. There is no evidence to support the claim that hubut means "confrontation with Satan" - whether in the Qur'an, in well authenticated Hadith or in any reputable dictionary. Moreover from Qur'an 2:36-38 it is clear that God's order to leave the garden came before and after Adam's repentance and not, as Muhammad Ali emphasizes, only after he repented. Hubut and ikhraj are essentially the same.
Another hadith testifies that hubut is a result of Adam's disobedience and a form of punishment:
Abu Huraira reported that God's messenger told of Adam and Moses holding a disputation in their Lord's presence and of Adam getting the better of Mqses in argument. Moses said, "You are Adam whom God created with His hand, into whom He breathed of His spirit, to whom He made the angels do obeisance, and whom He caused to dwell in His garden; then because of your sin you caused mankind to come down to the earth." Adam replied, "And you are Moses whom God chose to deliver His messages and to address, to whom He gave the tablets on which everything was explained and whom He brought near as a confidant. How long before I was created did you find that God has written the Torah?" Moses said, "Forty years." Adam asked, "Did you find in it, 'And Adam disobeyed his Lord and erred'?" On being told that he did, he said, "Do you then blame me for doing a deed which God had decreed that I should do forty years before He created me?" God's messenger said, "So Adam got the better of Moses in argument.23
Bukhari cites this hadith in a slightly different form: "Because of your sin you cast the people out (akhrajat) of the garden (al-jannat) and put them in trouble."24 This contradicts the claim of Muhammad Ali that hubut here does not involve punishment and is not the result of Adam's disobedience, and that mankind did not leave the garden.
Finally, the Qur'an clearly states that Satan is cursed until the day of judgement. How then can one make Satan obedient, or how has Muhammad Ali made Satan obedient to himself?
Toward a Christian Understanding of Original Sin1
Though the term "original sin" is not found in the Holy Bible, the idea of original sin, Adam's sin, has always been a vital element within the doctrine of sin as Christians have understood it. There is no doubt that Muslims who claim that the doctrine of original sin is fundamental to Christian faith are correct. Some Christian theologians have claimed that it is part of Christian revelation. There are those who claim that the doctrine, profoundly rooted in the Holy Bible, conforms also with reality and reason. They would endorse Browning's well known poem:
I still, to suppose it (the Christian faith) true,
for my part,
See reasons and reasons; this, to begin;
'Tis the faith that launched point-blank her dart
At the head of a lie - taught Original Sin,
The Corruption of Man's Heart.
On the other hand, most Muslims familiar with the concept have considered the doctrine of original sin to be neither revelational nor rational. They have used the Qur'an, the Bible and reason to support their rejection of this doctrine. Have they been justified in rejecting it? Initial Christian response to Muslim rejection of this doctrine may well turn on questions to both Christians and Muslims:
The issue continues to be of great theological and practical importance today. (One wonders how often Muslims and Christians well versed in both positions dialogue on this issue.) With this concern in mind it seems appropriate here to attempt some clarification of the Christian position on behalf of both Muslims and Christians interested in a fuller understanding of this vital issue.
The total depravity of man, then, in Luther's words, is man incurvatus in se, ("turned in on himself"), self-centred rather than God-centred and neighbour-centred. It suggests that the evil of this world has conditioned him to submit more readily to his own will than to the will of God. It is as if sin's roots are present in a newborn child, though in this state he is guilty of no sin.3 Thus Christians also speak of the sinful state of man. Sin courses through his total being as blood courses through his veins, to use an Islamically familiar idiom. This "heart disease" infects not only his so-called passions or animal instincts4 but his total being and the totality of his actions: his conscience, feelings, reason and will and, consequently, his works and their motivation. It imprisons mankind, individually and corporately, including family, tribe, ethnic group, nation - all human society.
Stated otherwise, total depravity renders man incapable of restoring himself back into right relation with God, winning God's forgiveness and attaining his own salvation. Human depravity leaves him with nothing in his hands to bargain with God for his salvation. Our salvation is God's pure and undiluted grace.
But does guidance alone suffice? Solid empirical evidence points to the universality of sin and to the universally human propensity of mankind to service of self rather than to service of God. Past and present history, "the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind" (Gibbon), records it in large letters. So do the records of the psychoanalysts. It is hardly coincidence that while morality must be taught, no one need to learn "immoral instruction" to understand and practice it; or, as has been said, that to seriously do good is always an uphill struggle while to do evil is to go downhill.
Does the history of any Islamic empire or nation provide reason for a more optimistic portrayal of the individual person and a happier record of human society? One might venture the suggestion that many Islamic representations of human history in areas where Muslims have or have not dominated, lend greater support to a pessimistic than optimistic view of natural man, not to speak of the Qur'an's own brief, but morbid, portrayal of history. In Christian understanding even the idea of human grandeur, despite mankind's past and present scientific and technological accomplishments, is an illusion which easily feeds on man's self deception. After more than 2,500 years the words of the prophet Jeremiah still ring true: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"5
Then does Christian pessimism finally manifest itself in despair? Yes, in the sense that Christians despair of any human capacity to cure themselves. But no, in the sense that despite their sin they trust God to forgive, to cure and to renew them. Herein lies Christian realism!
Some Muslims have correctly noted that Christians understand the doctrines of "original sin and God's salvation of mankind through the Cross of Jesus to undergird each other and to lend profounder meaning to one another, and in this sense each becomes indispensable for the other. On the other hand they are not correct if by this they mean that Christians have fabricated each doctrine for the sake of the other. As the telescope augments and refines our understanding of the universe, a Christian might explain, so the cross of Jesus the Messiah provides profounder meaning to the Christian doctrine of sin, including original sin. But the cross of the Messiah, though a logical sequence to the sin of mankind, as Christians understand it, is not the cause of sin or the source of the doctrine, anymore than the telescope is the cause of the universe. The cross of the Messiah personalizes, tragically and gloriously, God's response to mankind's sin: God's love for mankind and God's wrath, inherent in His holiness, against mankind's sin.
To you, omniscient Lord of all,
With grief and shame I humbly call;
I see my sins against you, Lord,
The sins of thought, of deed, and word.
They press me sore; to you I flee:
O God, be merciful to me!
My Lord and God, to you I pray,
Oh, cast me not in wrath away;
Let your good Spirit ne'er depart,
But let him draw to you my heart
That truly penitent I be:
O God, be merciful to me!
O Jesus, let your precious blood
Be to my soul a cleansing flood.
Turn not, O Lord, your guest away.
But grant that justified I may
Go to my house, at peace to be:
O God, be merciful to me!
This English essay was originally prepared in abbreviated form for a seminar held several years ago. Recently it was reviewed and augmented into its present form.
The same tradition in Bukhari is translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan: "Narrated Abu Haraira: Allah's messenger said, 'No child is born except on Al-Fitra (Islam) and then his parents make him Jewish, Christian or Magian, as an animal produces a perfect young animal: do you see any part of its body amputated?' Then he recited: 'The religion of pure Islamic Faith (Hanif), (i.e. to worship none but Allah), the pure Allah's Islamic nature with which He (Allah) has created mankind. Let there be no change in Allah's religion (i.e. to join none in Allah's worship). That is the straight religion; but most of men know not." (The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Bhavan, 1984, Vol. VI, p. 284)
He also notes that "created in the image of God" does not mean that God has hands and feet but that the reality of all God's attributes are reflected in man in a shadowy manner.
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