Submission in Christianity and Islam

Christianity and Islam both view submission as important.  This begs the question, do both religions have the same definition of submission?  Furthermore, do either, or both, of them use the same definition as the secular use of the word?  It’s important to know.  Otherwise, it’s like talking about fruit – but one person is talking about oranges and the other is talking about Japanese star anise.  The orange is good for our health, flavorful, and can be eaten raw or cooked.  However, the Japanese star anise (image below) fruit is highly toxic and its seeds are even used in animal poison. 

Japanese star anise

Yes – these are extreme examples.  No – I’ am not implying anything about Christianity, Islam, or the secular definitions.  Yet.  After all – we haven’t even looked at them.  At this time, I’m using the extremes to point out the importance of really knowing what people mean when using what appear to be ordinary words.

Secular definition of submission

Submission end up referring to the word submit, so let’s go straight to that word.

From dictionary.com, we see:

submit secular

verb (used with object), submitted, submitting.
1. to give over or yield to the power or authority of another (often used reflexively).
2. to subject to some kind of treatment or influence.
3. to present for the approval, consideration, or decision of another or others: to submit a plan; to submit an application.
4. to state or urge with deference; suggest or propose (usually followed by a clause): I submit that full proof should be required.

verb (used without object), submitted, submitting.
5. to yield oneself to the power or authority of another: to submit to a conqueror.
6. to allow oneself to be subjected to some kind of treatment: to submit to chemotherapy.
7. to defer to another’s judgment, opinion, decision, etc.: I submit to your superior judgment.

Islam definition of submission

I really wish there was a definition of submission / Islam that was actually accepted by the various sects of Islam.  However, there doesn’t seem to be one.  Just in the half-dozen or so copies of the Qur’an and the commentaries I have, there is much disagreement.  At least some of the fighting (literal wars) that have taken place in Islam from its inception in the seventh century AD – right up to the present day – is about whose version of Islam is the “right” one. 

The Qur’an itself has conflicting statements.  I am well aware that proponents of Islam claim there are none – but that’s simply not true.  For example, when read in chronological order (not even close to the printed order), the attitudes towards Christians and Jews change dramatically.  The only way to claim there are no conflicting statements is to use what’s called abrogation.  Abrogation is where the later statements – the ones that would have raised conflicts – override and replace the earlier ones, as if they never existed.  Whether or not this doctrine of abrogation is true depends completely on the beliefs of the commentator and the reader.  There’s no agreement about that either.

So, what I’ve done, after reading many definitions, is to use something from islamqa.info, under the heading of What is the meaning of the word Islam?

If you refer to Arabic language dictionaries you will find out that the meaning of the word Islam is: submission, humbling oneself, and obeying commands and heeding prohibitions without objection, sincerely worshipping Allaah alone, believing what He tells us and having faith in Him. The word Islam has become the name of the religion which was brought by Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). 

Why is this religion called Islam? For all the religions on earth are called by various names, either the name of a specific man or a specific nation. So Christianity takes its name from Christ; Buddhism takes its name from its founder, the Buddha; the Zoroastrians became well known by this name because their founder and standard-bearer was Zoroaster. Similarly, Judaism took its name from a tribe known as Yehudah (Judah), so it became known as Judaism. And so on. Except for Islam, for it is not attributed to any specific man or to any specific nation, rather its name refers to the meaning of the word Islam. What this name indicates is that the establishment and founding of this religion was not the work of one particular man and that it is not only for one particular nation to the exclusion of all others. Rather its aim is give the attribute implied by the word Islam to all the peoples of the earth. So everyone who acquires this attribute, whether he is from the past or the present, is a Muslim, and everyone who acquires this attribute in the future will also be a Muslim. 

That last paragraph is interesting.  Early on, Islam was known as Muhammadanism.  I believe that today, the term is not considered appropriate.  We need to remember though – the word Christian was also derogatory when it was first used.  The difference though, is that Christians embraced that term.

Also, the attempt to reduce the role of Muhammad in the establishment and founding of the religion appears to be another attempt to avoid history.  Even Muslim authors, when writing of the beginnings of Islam, speak to the importance of what Muhammad did and said.  That was how the Qur’an was assembled – more than 100 years after his death.  Even the positions Muslims must assume when praying are because that was how Muhammad did it.  His importance to Islam being what it is today cannot be overstated.

Finally, the fact that all of this information is presented as part of the answer to a question of “what is the meaning of the word Islam” reminds me of a line from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet:  “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.  In this case, I don’t know whether the author of the web page is male or female, but the sentiment behind the line remains.  It seems that submission, humbling oneself, and obeying commands and heeding prohibitions without objection, sincerely worshipping Allaah alone, believing what He tells us and having faith in Him.  would have been enough, without adding all the disclaimers.

Christian definition of submission

Christianity looks at submission from multiple points of view. 

One is obedience, which we’ll get into shortly.  Even when considering obedience, there are various relationships that are taken into account.  So, while I say obedience is one point of view – it’s actually more than one.

Another is wisdom.  Yes – wisdom.

Wisdom and obedience

This may seem like an odd combination.  As children, we are (or used to be?) taught to obey our parents.  Why?  Because they are our parents.  Period.  End of discussion.  Much the same view seems to come with Islam.  Obey Allah without exception and with no objection.  Just do it, to borrow a saying from some old Nike commercials.

However, looks at what James writes about wisdom and obedience:

Two Kinds of Wisdom

Jas 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Jas 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

What this passage says is so different from either the secular or the Muslim teachings about being submissive.  Being submissive is not the end goal in Christianity.  It’s one part of a larger picture.  Being submissive is one of several things that make up Christian wisdom.

In this short passage, we see many things.

Wisdom and understanding can be observed in a person by looking at their life.  It can be seen in the things they do.  However, we often miss the fact that these deeds are to be done for the right reason and in the right manner.  They are done with a sense of humility – not to get recognition.  Not recognition by other people.  And not even to get recognition by God.  That’s a huge difference between Christianity and Islam.  Islam claims that God weighs good deeds versus bad deeds – and the person with more good that bad is saved.  In a very real sense then, these good things are both selfish (for the person to be saved) and to get recognition from Allah (again, to be saved).  On the other hand, good deeds in Christianity are performed because we know we are already saved.

That which is not from God is, by definition, from the devil.  When selfishness enters in, there is evil – not something from or for God.

And then there is a list of things from which wisdom is derived, including being considerate, submissive, full of mercy, producing good fruit (good deeds, done for the right reasons), and being sincere.  Being submissive is part of that list – it’s not only thing.

More in Christian versus Muslim submission

To further differentiate the thoughts on submission between Christianity and Islam, consider this – from “What does the Bible really say about …”:

Authority is a two-way street

The way some people describe it, the success or failure of any venture rests almost entirely on good leadership. Yet at Mount Sinai (Ex. 32:7–8) we find that even the ultimate Leader—God Himself—experienced the disappointment of a mission gone awry. For authority is a two-way street. It involves not only the exercise of the superior’s authority, but also the subordinate’s acceptance of that authority. Israel declined to accept God’s leadership, not only here, but on numerous other occasions.

So far, there’s no real difference between the views of the two religions.  Both agree that we are free to not accept the leadership of God.

Have you ever wished that your boss were more assertive and in control? Perhaps you can help by being more submissive to the authority he does exercise. Accepting his authority is a kind of investment you make in your superior. Effective leaders always must have those who are willing to follow.  

There is, of course, a caveat here.  At least there is in Christianity.  Knowledge and wisdom.  Blindly following a leader is how people end up in cults / false religions.  That’s one reason submission is something that comes from Christian knowledge, as opposed to obeying commands and heeding prohibitions without objection.

A Lifestyle of Submission

A popular slogan in recent years has been “peace through strength.” But James might change that to “peace through humility.” After all, wars and fights arise from “desires for pleasure” (James 4:1). Our cravings lead to friendship with the world and enmity toward God (James 4:2–4). Thus, peace in the world depends upon peace with God, and that requires humility (James 4:6).

Peace also depends on knowledge.  While too many wars have been fought in the name of Christianity, there is nothing in the Bible about Jesus’ teachings or His own life that give even the tiniest amount of support for going to war in the name of Christ.

The same cannot be said about Islam.  In spite of claims by some that Islam is a religion of peace, both Muhammad’s own life examples and the teachings of the Qur’an explicitly support going to battle in the name of the religion.

The way to show humility before God is to submit to Him (James 4:7). In fact, the New Testament calls believers to a lifestyle of submission. The fact that Christ submits to His Father shows that submission need not carry a sense of inferiority. In fact, it shows that submission—in the ways that Scripture indicates—is a Christlike behavior, and worthy of honor (Phil. 2:1–11).

Given that Islam teaches that Jesus is merely a prophet and not the Son of God, this statement about our submission being part of Christ-like behavior completely loses its meaning.

It’s worth mentioning that submission is only half the equation. For example, the church is called to submit to Christ, but Christ also has responsibilities toward the church: to love her, to give Himself up for her, to make her pure, to nourish and cherish her, to love her as He loves Himself (Eph. 5:25–33).  1)Thomas Nelson Publishers. (2001). In What does the Bible say about… The ultimate A to Z resource fully illustrated (pp. 386–387). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Again, there is no such feeling in Islam.  There cannot be.  Islam has no example for its members to follow, other than the prophet Muhammad.  And he’s dead.  He has no ability to do anything for proponents of Islam, so there can be no reciprocal behavior.  To further separate the two religions, we can also look at the way the teachings of each were given.  Jesus, as the Son of God, is nothing short of God Himself teaching us, giving us an example to follow, and providing our salvation. 

On the other hand, the statements in the Qur’an were given by an angel, not by God directly.  Furthermore, Muhammad at first believed that angel was a Jinn – a fallen angel.  It was his wife, not Gd and not that angel, who convinced him otherwise.  Continuing on in the Qur’an, we see further examples where the prophet apparently needs to be told several times that He’s not crazy.

As I said – this whole thought of a two-way relationship between God and His people is only a Christian concept.  There is nothing in Islam that even comes close.  

Reasoning

One more thing to bring into the conversation is about reasoning.  Using our minds and knowledge to understand and reach conclusions.  One of my favorite verses from the Old Testament is Isaiah 1:18:

Isa 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.

Isa 1:19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;

Isa 1:20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Notice that willingness and obedience are also part of the passage.  

Some translations use “let us settle the matter“, instead of “let us reason together“.  I think a combination of the two might be the best way to express it. 

What’s happening here is that God is inviting His people, who have been disobeying Him, to willingly be obedient to Him.  We see the consequences that will result from choosing to do so – or not.  But it’s the invitation from verse 18 that’s so amazing.  God wants to reason with His people.  He wants them (us) to use their (our) minds to gain an understanding from Him.  God’s not offering to change anything about verses 19 or 20.  But He is willing, and wants to, reason with us so that we’ll understand why He is right.  To understand why His way is the best.  And why the consequences must be as described in the last two verses.

God’s not going to change His mind.  He wants us to change ours.  He wants us to submit to His will.  However, He doesn’t want us to blindly do it, asking no questions, having no understanding of why.  Many of the most famous Old Testament people, who truly loved God, asked questions.  That includes David, who is also referenced in the Qur’an.  The Old Testament heroes had doubts.  But it was OK. 

That two-way dialogue between us and God is not only OK, it’s what God is telling us to do in Isaiah 1:18.  There is no such provision in Islam.  Islam would tell us that God wants subservient little robots who do His will – no questions allowed.

Tell me – does that sound like a God who loves and cares for His greatest creation?

Conclusion

Understanding Submission in Christianity and Islam requires wisdom

These two religions that too many people claim to be the same are so different.  Even with this one word – which is the English translation of the name of the religion – Submission – they are very different.

The only way to resolve the conflicting views is wisdom.  The Bible is full of verses speaking about and giving wisdom – God’s wisdom.  On the other hand, the Qur’an has a dozen or so verses.  And they do not say what Allah’s wisdom is – only that it can be learned from the prophets (the Old Testament prophets), and Torah, and the Gospel.  And yet, that same Qur’an also says the Gospel message has been corrupted. 

So where is it exactly that the Muslim is supposed to get Allah’s wisdom?  References to scriptures that are supposedly corrupted are meaningless.  Random statements in the Qur’an about some of the corruption are made.  However, they aren’t at the beginning.  They begin to appear later – in chronological order.  One would think that if there was corruption of those scriptures people were told to read – it would have been brought up right away!  Where is the wisdom in sending people to books that are allegedly wrong?

The Bible flows like no other book.  Written over thousands of years by many different authors, it tells of a consistent God and the things He both does at various points in time – and what He will do later.  We see many of the prophecies fulfilled within the scriptures.  Therefore we can trust that the remainder will also be fulfilled.

The Qur’an, despite protestations from Muslims, is rambling.  Thoughts often come up in no apparent order.  Later verses contradict what some earlier ones said.  As already mentioned – references are made to both Old and New Testament books.  Even though the Qur’an itself also contradicts those same books.  Jesus not being the Son of God is the biggest one.  How can one derive wisdom from a book that tells its readers there is wisdom in the Gospels, and then also say that Jesus is not the Son of God?  And yet – here it is:

03:48 And He (Allaah) will teach him [‘Iesa (Jesus)] the Book and Al-Hikmah (i.e. the Sunnah, the faultless speech of the Prophets, wisdom, etc.), (and) the Tauraat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel).  2)Khan, Dr Muhammad Muhsin. English Translation of the Qur’an (Kindle Locations 698-699). Unknown. Kindle Edition.

It takes wisdom to draw conclusions about what is the truth.  Not our own wisdom, but that of God.  The source of God’s wisdom, even in the Qur’an, is the Bible.  

Furthermore, the Bible that we read today is the same one that people read in the time of Muhammad.  There is also more than enough actual physical evidence today to show that the Bible by both us and the people of Muhammad’s time has not been corrupted.  It is intact from the days of its origins. 

Therefore, true wisdom, God’s wisdom, must come from the Bible.

And therefore, submission to God should be viewed in the manner of that given in the Bible.  It’s so much more than just blindly following something.  

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

May we be all of those things.

 



image from:  Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen – List of Koehler Images, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=255351

References   [ + ]

1. Thomas Nelson Publishers. (2001). In What does the Bible say about… The ultimate A to Z resource fully illustrated (pp. 386–387). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
2. Khan, Dr Muhammad Muhsin. English Translation of the Qur’an (Kindle Locations 698-699). Unknown. Kindle Edition.

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