Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Khomeini’s evaluation of Islam

By Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

Ayatollah Khomeini is reported to have said:

“Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. ...” (Political thought and legacy of Khomeini, Wikipedia, 20 November 2010)1

This appears to be a sour view of life. Is it true to Islam? Ayatollah Khomeini was a leading figure in Shia Islam. Do present day Shia share this view? What about Sunnis, do they share this same attitude toward life? Is Khomeini’s view drawn from the Qur’an itself? There does not seem to be much joy in the Qur’an. Is this the basis for Khomeini’s view about life? Maybe Khomeini never read this part of the Qur’an: “And that He it is who maketh laugh, and maketh weep,” (53:43) The context does not seem to be clear whether this relates to creation or to the end of life.

A study of the Qur’an concerning joy does not reveal much in the current attitude toward life except anticipating the reward of the gardens of Paradise which would then be filled with joy that they were obedient. The people who die in battle for Allah are “jubilant” (3:170). The present life “is but the joy of delusion” (3:185 Arberry). Pickthall does not use “joy” but “comfort of illusion”. The importance of the next life is stressed while the present life is deceiving.

The Qur’an even warns people who reject Allah’s messenger that Allah is going to judge them quickly and severely. “Then change We the evil plight for good till they grew affluent and said: Tribulation and distress did touch our fathers. Then we seized them unawares, when they perceived not.” (7:95)

The background of this verse is that Shu’eyb went to a people to tell them about Allah, and the chieftains disbelieved and discouraged people from listening to Shu’eyb. An earthquake seized them and they were prostrate in their houses. Those who rejected Shu’eyb were the losers. Then it seems that no prophet is sent to a people until its people had been afflicted with tribulation so they would grow humble. If they had believed in the first place the blessings from the sky would be opened upon them. Verse 7:096 seems to indicate that Allah changed the evil into good until they became affluent and “then We seized them unawares, when they perceived not.”

One can empathize with stress on the future life and the shallowness of the materialism, but is there not joy and happiness in the Creator’s intention right now? Is there a right to be joyful now?

Or, is joyless legalism the very essence of Islam how it is supposed to be? In all fairness, legalism is not limited to Islam. The Talmud has a lot of legalism in it, and there have been Christians who have lived a legalistic existence all their lives.

Khomeini’s pronouncement about Islam simply reflects the view that Islam is about legalism, obeying the precepts of Islam to win acceptance with Allah. Allah does not like fun. Allah does not like jokes. Allah does not like humor. And from other sources Allah does not like music.

For additional examples of Khomeini’s attitude check this article.

Legalism is the attempt to put all of life’s decisions in legal form. If the Qur’an is supposed to be the revelation of Allah and the basic source book for religious practice there is so much that is not in the Qur’an to give that needed direction. (Some of these issues will be seen in the examples below.) The question is this: if the Qur’an does not deal with lots of life’s issues, who compiles the rules that Muslims are to obey but which are not part of the Qur’an? The precepts or rules created by Muslim imams are not revelation. Even the imams differ on individual issues.

If the rules are not revelation and are compiled by imams this means that Muslims are following decisions that are purely human. Their lives are being based on mere human beings who do not have revelation from Allah. This also means the Muslims are basing their lives on precepts made up. A Muslim then becomes dependent upon another Muslim for spiritual direction.

These rules and precepts create a form of legalism which is enslaving to the individual Muslim, and creating the impression that all of this is required by Allah when it is not. Do you want other people making minute decisions about your life that are not revelation?

Below are some examples of the application of legalism. These are drawn from a Muslim website in which people email the imam seeking his counsel.

Question: “After Sehri and Fajr salaah, if you go back to sleep, thereafter when you wake up, is it permissable to brush ones teeth with toothpaste. Does this nullify the fast?

Answer: “One should not use toothbrush and toothpaste during the fast. One should rather use a Miswaak. (A tooth-cleaner made of wood, about a span long-- ed.) However, if somebody did use toothpaste, but nothing went down the throat, the fast had not broken. However, it should not be done in future. And Allah Ta'ala Knows Best”

Question: “Can a mother of a four months old postpone her fast due to breast feeding?”

Answer: “If the women fears any harm befalling the newborn like not receiving sufficient milk which could lead to other complications then it is permitted for that women not to keep the fast. She must however make up for the missed fasts on other days and she does not have to give any kafaarah she just needs to fast. and Allah Ta'ala Knows Best” (Source)

Question: “kissing wife transfers sputum? does the fast break”

Answer: “Kissing does not break the fast .However, if one spouse swallows the salive of the other, the fast will be nullified. Hence, kissing, i.e. mouth to mouth, is Makrooh. and Allah Ta'ala Knows Best” (Source)

Question: “I would like to no if burbing through the mouth breaks the wudoo and i masturabated thrice when i was fasting what should i do, should i fast sixty days for each.”

Answer: “1. Burning does not nullify the Wudhu of a person. 2. You will have to fast 60 days for all 3 times and not 60 days for each time. and Allah Ta'ala Knows Best”

Question: “My wife masturbated me while we were fasting. Is the fast makrooh or not valid?”

Answer: “By ?climaxed?, we understand that ejaculation took place. In such a case, the husband?s fast has broken. He has to make sincere Tawbah and make Qadhaa of that fast.

The wife’s fast is valid, but is tainted due to her action. She should make earnest Tawbah for her action. Ghusl was Waajib on the husband, but not on the wife. (Shaami voll.1 pg.404; HM Saeed) and Allah Ta'ala Knows Best.”

Question: “My husband and i sinned, we had a sexual intercourse while fasting in ramadan after the dawn.please guide us and tell us what we can do to have Allah forgiveness.

Answer: “If you forgetfully had sexual intercourse during the time of fasting, then your fast will not break nor would it require any qada-’ or kaffa-rah. However, if this was done intentionally, then the fast will break and will necessitate, both, qada-’ and kaffa-rah. Therefore, in addition to making up this fast after Ramada-n (qada-’), you will need to fast for two consecutive lunar months or sixty days as kaffa-rah” (Source)

Question: Assalam O Alikium, I have read that you have to have full clothes on when you go to bed. I have a habit of sleeping naked, but I do cover myself with a sheet or blanket. Is that okay to do so? I make sure I am fully covered with the blanket.

Answer: “Modesty is an integral part of one’s faith. Without modesty, a person can never be a true Muslim. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) said, “Imaan has more than sixty branches and Hayaa (modesty) is an extremely important branch of Imaan. (Bukhari, Hadith: 08)

...It is against the dictates of Hayaa (modesty) to sleep naked.” (Source)

There are lots more questions and lots more answers on this site. It gives one the minutia that pervades the life of a serious Muslim. Is this kind of legalism the norm for Muslims?

In contrast Jesus answered the legalistic question of the Pharisees in this way:

About this time some Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses came from Jerusalem. They asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples obey what our ancestors taught us to do? They don't even wash their hands before they eat." Jesus answered: Why do you disobey God and follow your own teaching? Didn't God command you to respect your father and mother? Didn't he tell you to put to death all who curse their parents? But you let people get by without helping their parents when they should. You let them say that what they have has been offered to God.

Is this any way to show respect to your parents? You ignore God's commands in order to follow your own teaching. And you are nothing but show-offs! Isaiah the prophet was right when he wrote that God had said, "All of you praise me with your words, but you never really think about me. It is useless for you to worship me, when you teach rules made up by humans."

Jesus called the crowd together and said, "Pay attention and try to understand what I mean. The food that you put into your mouth doesn't make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean." (Matthew 15:1-11)

The prophet Isaiah wrote: “The Lord said, "These people claim to worship me, but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorized.” (Isaiah 29:13)

The verse in Isaiah quoted by Jesus applies to the minute rules in Islam, they are rules made up by humans. Just as the people in Jesus’ day were overwhelmed by legalism, so the Muslim system overwhelms people, creating guilt, creating a false sense of what it means to worship, and creating a life based on the often erroneous teachings of men.

Khomeini's words involve a system of works in the attempt to win the favor of Allah. There are two things that happen in a system of works. One is that the level of works is set so low that one may feel good about achieving that level and Allah must accept the person. The other is that the level is so high that no one can achieve it. But the real problem is the system of religious works itself. It is presumptuous to think one can buy the favor of the Creator with good works. Moreover, one never knows when one has done enough good works to gain acceptance with Allah. How do you know when you have won acceptance? Do we all have the same level to achieve? Is it easier for someone else to win acceptance than for me? What are the many deeds that one must do to win acceptance from Allah?

This then becomes complicated by another factor – predestination. If Allah has already made his choice of who is going to paradise and who is going to hell, how can good works sway his decision? Obviously they cannot. So in reality the Muslim is reduced to say, “if Allah wills.” On this the Qur’an declares:

“He whom Allah leadeth, he indeed is led aright, while he whom Allah sendeth astray - they indeed are losers.” (7:178) “Already have We urged unto hell many of the jinn and humankind, having hearts wherewith they understand not, and having eyes wherewith they see not, and having ears wherewith they hear not. These are as the cattle - nay, but they are worse! These are the neglectful.” (7:179)

Khomeini said, “An Islamic regime must be serious in every field.” What do Islamic regimes do when they are serious? They coerce people. Coercion can be achieved by religious police as in Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Coercion can be achieved by families who require offspring to learn the Qur’an by memory, even though they do not understand Arabic, require them to attend the mosque, impose marriage upon the girls who may not want to marry a parental choice. The bottom line is that Islam rejects personal freedom to choose. Allah does not allow freedom, only obedience.

Khomeini declared, “There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.” The Gospel is serious and because it is the serious message about forgiveness in Jesus that brings joy to all sinners. Remember that the Scripture declares that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). Khomeini’s words reflect his rejection of that good news and his view requires really bad news – people must deliver themselves from sin, which is impossible, and they must do good works to win Allah’s favor which is also bad news.

Khomeini's words ignore what the good news of the Gospel is all about. The Gospel is about life, the good life. Jesus said, “A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest.” (John 10:10) In another place Jesus said, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Joy is a word that appears frequently in the Old and New Testaments.

What is joy? One quick idea is that joy is knowing that you are loved and blessed by Yahweh. Joy does not depend on winning Allah’s favor. Joy is possible because Jesus, the Son of God, has promised everlasting life to those who believe in Him. In a small way a comparison may be made between the human experience of one person loving another person. When my wife came to the point of affirming her love for me it brought joy to my heart, and it still does. I am not perfect and both of us know this. But she loves me.

She continues to love me in spite of my failings. In the larger context Yahweh has expressed his love to us in spite of ourselves. We are not perfect and will not be until we enter his presence. But Yahweh loves us and continues to love us. This is the source of joy. It is joyful to know one has everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.

There is joy expressed in a variety of different contexts in the Scriptures. Consider the following and think about the human experiences in which joy fills the human breast.

Another definition of joy is that it is love laughing, or joy expressed over an unusual bit of unexpected news that produces laughter. One can see this in the example of Sarah in the following verse.

“Sarah said, "God has brought me joy and laughter. Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me." (Gen 21:6) The birth of a child in her old age brought joy to Sarah.

When Jacob saw Rachel with his uncle Laban’s flock, he went to the well, rolled the stone back, and watered the sheep. Then he kissed her and began to cry for joy. He told her, "I am your father's relative, the son of Rebecca." She ran to tell her father; (Genesis 29:10-12)

Jacob found his relatives on his journey back to his ancestor’s home, and joy.

“As the Box was being brought into the city, Michal, Saul's daughter, looked out of the window and saw King David dancing and leaping for joy, and she was disgusted with him.” (1 Chronicles 15:29)

It might be said that Michal was the female Khomeini of the Old Testament. She was disgusted with David for being filled with joy.

The king and the leaders of the nation told the Levites to sing to the LORD the songs of praise that were written by David and by Asaph the prophet. So everyone sang with great joy as they knelt and worshiped God. (2 Chronicles 29:30) Singing is related to joy. People don’t usually sing when they are not happy or joyous.

After the Israelites had been punished for their idolatry and were carried into captivity in Babylon they returned after 70 years to Jerusalem. Life was difficult but they set about rebuilding the city and the temple. When they finished the wall they had a great celebration. Nehemiah records it:

“That day many sacrifices were offered, and the people were full of joy because God had made them very happy. The women and the children joined in the celebration, and the noise they all made could be heard for miles.” (Nehemiah 12:43)

When one reads through the Psalms the idea of joy appears repeatedly.

“But all who find safety in you will rejoice; they can always sing for joy. Protect those who love you; because of you they are truly happy.” (Psalm 5:11)

“I will sing with joy because of you. I will sing praise to you, Almighty God.” (Psalm 9:2)

“You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.” (Psalm 16:11)

“Sing a new song to him, play the harp with skill, and shout for joy!” (Psalm 33:3)

“Blow trumpets and horns, and shout for joy to the LORD, our king.” (Psalm 98:6)

“Worship the LORD with joy, come before him with with happy songs!” (Psalm 100:2)

There was music, musical instruments, singing, shouting for joy. Joy is also related to gladness, and even fun. There is fun in a family where all the members are loved equally. There is no joy when a wife is a second class being, without freedom, without trust, and without love.

Love involves equality of relationships.

“So be happy with your wife and find your joy with the woman you married—” (Proverbs 5:18)

A marriage that begins in joy can continue in joy when two people are committed to loving and caring for one another.

With the coming of Jesus there is a new era of Joy. The announcement of his birth begins this new era of joy because God has come down in the person of Jesus. The angel announced to the people, “Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people.” (Luke 2:10) The angel brought news that was liberating. There is no joy in legalism where one is inclined to keep all the light rules to the maximum. Legalism only brings vanity and pride, hubris. There is no fellowship among proud people. Each thinks oneself better than the others.

The presence of Jesus in one’s life brings joy. Read his words, “And now I am coming to you, and I say these things in the world so that they might have my joy in their hearts in all its fullness.” (John 17:13)

When the Ethiopian official understood the Scripture he wanted to become a follower of Jesus and Philip baptized him. The record declares, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away. The official did not see him again, but continued on his way, full of joy.” (Acts 8:39)

Joy permeates the followers of Jesus even when they were persecuted and in their normal living for Jesus. Consider the following verses:

“The believers in Antioch were full of joy and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52)

“For God's Kingdom is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of the righteousness, peace, and joy which the Holy Spirit gives.” (Romans 14:17)

“May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

“They have been severely tested by the troubles they went through; but their joy was so great that they were extremely generous in their giving, even though they are very poor.”(2 Corinthians 8:2)

“But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” (Galatians 5:22)

“May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:11)

Your love, dear brother, has brought me great joy and much encouragement! You have cheered the hearts of all of God's people.” (Philemon 1:7)

We write this in order that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:4)

There is the verb form of the word, joy, in the command to rejoice. It has been defined:

“To experience joy and gladness in a high degree; to be exhilarated with lively and pleasurable sensations; to exult.”

The disciples of Jesus had been sent to the various villages to preach that the Kingdom of God has come to them, they were to heal, cast out demons, and tell of the Kingdom of God. Jesus gave them power to do miracles, something that Mohammed could not do. When they returned they were delighted in what they had done, but he told them that they should rejoice in having their names written down in heaven. Whatever you can do here is not comparable to having your name written down in heaven.

“Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:18-20)

The letters of the New Testament continue the theme of joy. Paul wrote to the church at Rome about the implications of the Gospel of Jesus. “Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2) There is a huge contrast in our hopes. In Romans 3.23, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, now because of Jesus we can rejoice in the hope of sharing the glory of God. The Muslim paradise focuses on virgins, but the Christian hope focuses on the glory of God who is the Creator of all things. The Muslim paradise is narcissistic, self-indulgent, the kingdom of God is community oriented. There is more than sex involved in the presence of Yahweh.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Phil.4:4) Rejoicing in the Lord always is not the same as rejoicing over a house, a job, or some other item that is transient. Jesus promised that He would be with us forever. That is the basis of rejoicing. There is no security in this world – not in money, houses, jobs, or government. The only security is Jesus. That is the basis of rejoicing, knowing that your name is written down in Heaven, knowing that your sins are forgiven, knowing that Yahweh has promised you everlasting life in His presence. Rejoice!

The good news about Jesus led the Apostle Paul to write to the church at Thessalonica, “Rejoice always!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

The word “rejoice” appears over 150 times in the Scripture.

Near the end of the New Testament we have the word rejoice connected to Jesus: In the first letter of the Apostle Peter we read:

“Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

The readers were people scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, and they became believers because of the preaching of the apostles and others. They had not seen Jesus but because of the good news about his death and resurrection they committed their lives to the Living Savior, and they loved Him for what He did for them. By receiving Him into their lives they rejoiced with unutterable and exalted joy. The commitment they made to Jesus brought them “salvation to your souls.” The certainty of the promise of Jesus gives calmness to the spirit. Jesus is not capricious as Allah is said to be. Jesus’ words are foundational for joy. Right now!

Jesus came to give us Himself, not a set of rules, precepts, and regulations. The world is filled with human rules. Jesus came to give us the joy of his presence in our lives. Joy is not based on what I have done, but on what Jesus, the Son of God, has done for me. We can only feel sorry for the Khomeinis of the world. To live life with a depressing set of rules and ignore the joy of the Kingdom of God is sad but unnecessary. Jesus came to give Life and Life more abundantly. (John 10:10)



1 It is amazing to see how many webpages quote this statement (e.g., 1, 2, 3). Apparently, a lot of people think that it is very suitable to express their experience of Islam in many countries and many circumstances.

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