by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah
The Light (Pakistan), 16th March 1922 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 7, pp. 2–3)
A few days back, while going through some Christian literature against Islam, I came across an article entitled “Our Intercessor”. In order to give the reader an idea of its contents, I give below an extract from it:
“1. Mere repentance (taubah) and asking forgiveness (istighfar) cannot be of any avail in alleviating one’s punishment.
2. Mohammad [Muhammad] cannot be our Intercessor, because he is plainly stated in the Quran as sinful (40:55 and 48:2) and one who was erring and going astray (93:7).”
This is, in a nutshell, the Christian contention against Islam.
These objections, however, are not new ones, but the Christian critics are too fond of repeating them over and over again. As a matter of fact, such blunders are due ignorance of the Arabic language. In order to understand a passage of a foreign language to its true sense, a thorough knowledge of its idioms and modes of expression is indispensable. One who does not possess it is bound to make serious mistakes.
Another reason for their misunderstanding is not taking the meanings in the light of the context and in consistence with the other statements of a similar nature.
As regards the first objection, it has arisen purely from a shallow and a superficial knowledge of the Arabic words taubah and istighfar. The word taubah itself gives us the philosophy of repentance. The root meaning of this word is to return, and hence it implies a perfect change in the course of one’s life. Mere utterance of certain words is not at all what is called true repentance. It must be accompanied by an actual change for the better. Mere lip profession is of no avail. It must be followed by good deeds.
Similarly, the word ghafar (from which istighfar is derived), means the covering of a thing to protect it from dirt. The word also carries the idea of forgiveness, but the dominant idea is that of protection. It includes both kinds of protection: protection from the commission of a sin, and protection from the punishment of one already committed.
Another word which has led many missionaries to wrong conclusions is zanb (fault or sin). This word has a very wide significance. It applies to all shortcomings resulting from inattention, incapacity, and frailties of human nature. It differs from ism (the exact word for sin) in being unintentional; whereas sin is intentional.
The fourth word which serves as a foundation for such charges by the Christian missionaries is dall (lost). The Arabic language is so extensive that a single word carries a hundred and one different meanings according to the context and the measure which it follows. For instance, the word dall undoubtedly means one erring and going astray, but the lexicologists also give its meaning as one who is perplexed and hence unable to see the true path; one whose soul yearns for the right course, but needs others’ help for it. It also signifies one who has almost lost himself in the pursuit of some object.
If the Christian critics keep in mind the various significances of these words and interpret them according to context, there can be no possibility of such unwarranted objections. But their ignorance and their prejudice are the source of the whole trouble. The Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] has been repeatedly spoken of in the Quran as the purifier of others; and history bears ample testimony to this statement. Yet the Christian writer under the influence of his biased mind does not like to see the facts, and wants to take refuge in the sinister meaning of these words which have got various shades of significance.
The hostile critic will, for instance, intentionally interpret the world dall as “one who has gone astray” instead of “one who has lost himself in the search of truth,” and will ignore the fact that the first meaning is not in keeping with the other attributes of the Prophet. He cannot be both a “purifier” and a “sinner.” It is, therefore, necessary for the critics of Islam to equip themselves with adequate knowledge of the Arabic language; and thus not make the religion a bait of their own ignorance.