Sura 61:14 and Church History
O ye who believe! Be ye helpers of Allah: As said Jesus the son of Mary to the Disciples, "Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?" Said the disciples, "We are Allah's helpers!" then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved: But We gave power to those who believed, against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed. Sura 61:14
In this verse of the Qur'an, seemingly God himself says, that those who believed in Jesus as the disciples did, were those who prevailed. The Qur'an acknowledges that there was strife and enmity, that these true believers indeed had enemies, but in the end, the true believers were those who prevailed. And this not by accident, since it is God himself who gives this power to the true believers.
Looking at this very clear verse, I wonder why Muslims seem to completely disregard it and declare that true Christianity and the true message of Jesus became corrupted and Christianity is wrong.
Does this Islamic theory of the "corruption of Christianity" not mean that the true believers, those which followed and believed the true message of Jesus did indeed NOT prevail?
Yes, Church history agrees there was much battle over the right doctrine and correct faith between the different interpretations taken by some. And especially in the early fourth century the theological battle between those whose spokesman was Athanasios and the large following that Arius had at this time. This debate went on for a number of years. But in the end it was a clear victory of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. And this battle was completely decided in the fourth century, nearly 250 years before the Qur'an was given to Muhammad.
This seems to leave us with the alternative that either
But it is worse than that. Most Muslims believe that Jesus preached in essence the "same Islam" as Muhammad did. But we have NO record at all of any group believing similarly to what we find in Islam. We have record of many different groups which claimed to be Christians. Some very small, some larger ones. Some of them "still acceptable" with only minor deviations from orthodox Christianity, some totally heretic. But not only did no "Islam-like" group prevail, there didn't even exist one. Or, if Muslims still want to claim the existence of such a group, it was so insignificant as to not leave any trace of its existence at all, not to speak of "prevailing" or "being uppermost" [as the Shakir and Pickthall translations render it].
Furthermore, Jesus said basically the same as the Qur'an:
This means: Even though the powers of death and destruction will try to overpower the church, Jesus prophecies that they will not succeed, and the true church [HIS church] will not be overpowered but stand secure in these attacks. NOT: It will be corrupted and dissolve and then God will send a new prophet to reestablish a community of true believers.
Muslims and Christians agree that God is All-knowing and wouldn't make such mistakes. Either the Muslims are wrong with their theory of a corrupted Christianity, or, if that is indeed necessary for Islam, then at least this verse is wrong and therefore didn't come from the omniscient God, but from a less well-informed source.
But if (this part of) the Qur'an is not from God, how do you know the rest of the Qur'an is and what do you base this confidence on?
And even Yusuf Ali's commentary, footnote 5448 says:
I.e. Yusuf Ali interprets this verse clearly as refering to that Christianity which permeated the Roman Empire, not some unknown other group of Christians. Again, you just can't "overlook" those who prevailed. It can only refer to those who are the victors in the end. And to this day, though there are small minorities who hold heretical views but call themselves Christians, the vast majority of Christian Churches is firmly Trinitarian and especially this was clearly the case at the very time the Qur'an was preached by Muhammad.
Side remark: Even though arguments for truth (quality) from numbers (quantity) are fallacious, Muslims bring it up ever so often. Hence note: Until this day, Christianity has at least 50% more adherents than Islam (2 Billion and 1.2 Billion). And though Islam has become strong to a certain extent, it is after 1400 years still far from prevailing over Christianity. Also, around 900 or even 1400 AD, with the large Muslim Empire still intact and before the missions movement in Christianity from the 18th century onwards there might well have been more Muslims on this earth than Christians. What does that then tell us about long term growth rates? Why do you think the *current growth rate* is so much more meaningful than this long term growth rate?
If we believe that God is the author of these words, there seems to be a problem. If we assume it was Muhammad who composed them, then they make perfect sense. What I pointed out above, is solid history, nobody has any basis to disagree with it. The following are purely my thoughts on the issue, trying to find an explanation for the observations. Feel free to completely disagree. But do you have a better explanation?
Yusuf Ali in his introduction to this Sura says that the date of it is not known, but most probably just after the battle of Uhud, i.e. just after the Muslim community had a major setback and was defeated by the unbelievers.
Muhammad was a clever man, and he had travelled quite a bit in the Middle East as the head administrator of Khadijja's caravan business. He would have talked to the people through whose country he travelled and would have known that the Christians originally were a very persecuted and small minority. First persecuted by the Jews, later mainly by the powerful Roman empire, but he would also have seen that in most areas where he came to the Christians were the ones ruling now. Despite their initial smallness and weakness they had finally prevailed over all their enemies, both the Jews and the Romans.
So, what could have been more encouragement to his small dispised community of followers [if it was a Mekkan Sura] or this just defeated Muslim community [if after the Battle of Uhud as Yusuf Ali states], than to remind them that the followers of the prophet Jesus were in just the same situation [first in Israel and then in the Roman empire] as the Muslims now [in Mekka/Medina/Arabia]. But God gave THEM victory over their enemies - even though not immediately - but in the end it was the true believers which prevailed by the power of God. Therefore, don't give up, take heart, God is with us and we also will eventually prevail even if it is difficult now.
Muhammad was a man who knew how to lead people, no question about that. And reading it this way, it makes perfect sense.
Though this was excellent "encouragement psychology", Muhammad seemingly wasn't familiar with the true Christian faith and doctrines. Otherwise he might have been more careful in what he was saying here.
To summarize, the problem is:
Was God uninformed about the kind of Christianity that had prevailed? Or was Muhammad uninformed about the Christianity that had prevailed?
Either way, this is a "difficult" verse with quite some consequences. Or do you see a way that is able to view this verse both in line with historical reality and with divine omniscience?
Copyright © 1997 Jochen Katz. All rights reserved.
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