Allah’s Eternal Word
History testifies concerning man’s many misunderstandings and errors in interpretation. For example, it was once believed by all men of learning that the earth was flat. Or again, men of science once thought base metals such as lead could be turned into gold. Such beliefs as these have since been shown wrong and have been modified accordingly.
In the religious realm there have been many similar misunderstandings. These usually have centered around some faulty interpretation of a statement or passage of Scripture. At one time, for example, it was the belief of one sect within Islam that Allah has a body. It was felt He possessed physical features such as hands and a face. Passages from the Quran and the Hadith that described Allah as sitting on His throne or placing His hand on the shoulder of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were interpreted literally and used to justify this belief.
With the passage of time, however, scholars and students of Islam gradually realized that such passages were not to be taken literally. From the testimony of other and clearer passages, it was understood that Allah has no body or physical limitations. It was therefore understood that passages such as the above were to be taken figuratively. And once it was understood that certain passages must be taken figuratively, it became clear how other difficult passages much be interpreted.
Religious misunderstandings of the above nature are not limited to the Quran and the Hadith. Through the course of history, the Taurat, Zabur and Injil have also suffered from many such problems of interpretation. And because of incorrect interpretation, a number of misunderstandings have arisen.
Without a doubt, the most widespread and serious such misunderstanding relates to a phrase frequently found in the Injil – “son of God”. In some cases the term refers to the entire Jewish nation, in other cases to all believers in Allah, and in yet other cases it refers to the Prophet Isa. Let us spend some time examining this term and seek to understand how it is used and what it actually means.
Those who have objected to the term have tried to understand it in its literal meaning. To do so is to encounter many very serious difficulties. Taken literally, it would mean Allah had a wife and physically beget children (Astaghfirullah). Yet, such a blasphemous thought contradicts the clear teaching of the Injil itself. Thus, Isa taught in the Injil that Allah is one and without partner. It is also clearly taught in the Injil that Allah has no physical body, but is spirit. The idea of Allah physically begetting a son is as impossible as it is blasphemous. Therefore, those who have tried to understand the term in a literal way have faced the same insuperable problems faced by those who would interpret the above passages from the Quran and the Hadith literally.
In fact, it has been the universal belief of the followers of the Injil that the term “son of God” must be interpreted figuratively. Not only does such a figurative interpretation avoid the problems and difficulties of the literal understanding, it is also supported by several other factors. Let us look at some of the factors for accepting the figurative or symbolic understanding of the term.
First of all, by interpreting figuratively the title is given the same interpretation as another well known title of Isa found in both the Quran and the Injil – Allah’s Word. Here the title clearly cannot be taken as literal. Isa is not a literal sound, letter or word. Rather, the term must be and is understood figuratively.
A word is essentially a means or instrument of communication, conveying one’s thoughts and desires to another. In just that way, Isa was Allah’s word – Allah’s means of communication with mankind. Through Isa, Allah was able to express His thoughts and wishes to man. Now, since it is obvious that one title of Isa’s – Allah’s word – must be understood figuratively, it is not difficult to suppose that another title – Allah’s son – must similarly be understood figuratively. Such a supposition is amply born out elsewhere.
It is a simple fact of language that the phrases “son of” and “father of” often have just such figurative meanings as we suggest. Let us examine first the phrase “father of” and look at its different figurative usages. Thus, it is commonly said that such and such a person is a nation’s “father.” No one would be so foolish as to think the individual so named actually begot each and every citizen of that land. No, the obvious meaning is the figurative one. Because of the significant role the person played in the nation’s independence and development, he is given the supreme title of honor and affection – the nation’s father. It simply implies the close relationship that person holds to his country.
Such figurative uses of the term “father” are not restricted to men only. We find them also applied to Allah. Allah is, after all, the creator, the provider, and the sustainer of all things. The first Sura of the Quran, Sura Fatiha, begins with the words Al-Hamdulillah Rabb Al-Alamin (All praise to Allah, Lord of the Worlds). In their commentary on this sura, Md. Abdul Hakin and Md. Ali Hassain write thus: “Some interpreters believe that the word Rabb comes from the Arabic ‘Ab,’ the root word for father. Thus, the real or root meaning of rabb is father.” Once again, no one would be so foolish as to understand rabb as applied here to Allah in the literal or physical sense of father. As it refers to Allah, it obviously has a figurative, spiritual meaning. Allah is not the physical father of His creation. Yet, without His power and guiding force, nothing would have been created. He is the true creative force and power behind each creature born into this world. He is the world’s rabb, the figurative father and creative force.
Taking the matter down to a more personal and individual level, we must conclude that each child born into this world is the direct result of Allah’s creative activity. How many childless couples there are who sadly acknowledge that unless Allah moves and enables through His creative powers, their own efforts to obtain progeny are doomed to failure. We may boast in our pride that we are the creator and father of a child, but ultimately we must acknowledge that such titles can rightly be given to Allah alone. Again, we speak not of a literal and physical fatherhood, but rather of creative power and enabling. Thus, in a real way and as the above Quranic commentators conclude, Allah is the father of all His creation, including man.
Let us look next at some figurative uses of the term “son of.” One such usage is found in the Quran, Sura 2:177 and many other places. In this passage a perpetual traveler, a wanderer, is called “son of the road” (ibn as-sabel). We see again that a literal interpretation would defy reason. A physical, literal interpretation is clearly impossible. The obvious meaning is figurative. The person has such a close relationship to the road that he is called its son. We see again that intimacy or closeness is the essence of the term “son of” or “father of” in their figurative uses.
The above conclusion is born out in the Injil as well. Thus, in one passage we find Isa talking to some Jewish leaders. In their pride they boast to Isa that they are the children of Ibrahim. Isa rebukes them; if they were Ibrahim’s children they would do Allah’s will as Ibrahim did. Instead, they are seeking to do evil. Isa therefore concludes, “You belong to your father, Iblis, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.”
In a physical, literal sense, those Jews were indeed correct. They were the physical descendants, the children, of Ibrahim. Yet, Isa saw beyond the literal meaning to the deeper significance behind the term. Their works showed clearly that spiritually these Jews had their closest relationship and allegiance not to Ibrahim, the man of Allah, but with Satan and his proud and rebellious nature. It was thus entirely accurate and appropriate to call them “children of Satan.”
Having examined the above common figurative uses of the terms “father of” and “son of,” we find ourselves in a position to better understand the Injil’s use of the term “son of Allah.” As in the above examples, it unquestionably has a figurative and spiritual meaning. It serves to emphasize the person of persons’ close relationship to Allah. Just as one who is led by Satan is called a “child of Satan,” so one who enjoys a close and intimate spiritual relationship to Allah and is led by Him is called a “child of Allah” or “son of Allah”. For example, we find the following passage in the Injil, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of Allah are sons of Allah.” (Romans 8:13,14)
The term “son of Allah,” therefore, bears no physical significance in the Injil. The Jewish nation was called the “son of Allah” in its early days when it was still living in obedience to Allah. By contrast, those Jews who later turned away from Allah in pride and rebellion were declared to be “children of Satan.” Whoever, be he Jew or non-Jew, that is willing to put to death his inner selfish desires and to follow Allah is given the title “son of Allah” in the Injil.
We can better understand, then, why Isa should be so frequently given that title, being one whose obedience to Allah, dependence on Allah and intimate relationship with Allah goes far beyond our merger experience. It is also clear that the title is free of the charges so often leveled against it. It most certainly does not imply any physical relationship to Allah nor does it imply any physical attributes to Allah. Rather, it designates a life lived in close spiritual relationship to the One creator and sustainer of all things.
It is our hope that this discussion has clarified a number of things in the reader’s mind. First, we hope it has demonstrated the great importance of correctly distinguishing between literal and figurative uses of terms. To fail to do so in interpreting Scripture inevitably leads to error and blasphemy. We hope, too, that it has helped clarify one of the major misunderstandings related to one of Allah’s Holy Books, the Injil. In this small booklet it is, of course, impossible for us to adequately plumb the depths and fullness of the term “son of Allah” as used of Isa. We have seen what it assuredly does not mean, yet we have only briefly and inadequately looked at its true meaning. The full spiritual meaning of this term can only be fully understood by a serious and in-depth study of Allah’s Holy Books.
We pray that this lesson might have given the reader just such a desire to understand and interpret Allah’s Word for himself. If that is indeed the case and you would like to study more about the eternal truths set forth in the Holy Books, please continue in these studies. We would be most happy to give you the opportunity to read and understand for yourself those books sent down by our merciful and Almighty Allah.
The first nine questions below are multiple choice. Simply place a check mark ( ) by the statement you feel best answers the question. Question ten asks you to put down your own ideas. Answer it truthfully and to the best of your knowledge.
1. The following is an example of a widely heard false belief or misunderstanding.
a. Those believing the earth is flat.
b. Those believing dirty water causes disease.
c. Those believing the moon revolves around the earth.
2. Taking a literal interpretation of the Hadith and Quran, some have believed:
a. Allah had a physical body.
b. Allah was not all powerful.
c. Allah was not the creator.
3. Such misunderstanding was corrected by use of:
a. A literal interpretation of the Quran.
b. A figurative interpretation of the Quran.
c. An allegorical interpretation of the Quran.
4. Isa the Messiah taught:
a. That there are many gods.
b. That there are three Gods.
c. That Allah is One.
5. When Isa is called the Kalimatullah, Word of Allah, the clear meaning is:
6. To say that someone is such-and-such a country’s “Father” implies:
a. A physical relationship.
b. An intimate and loving but non-physical relationship.
c. No real relationship at all.
7. When Isa told some Jews that their father was Satan, he meant:
a. They were the physical sons of Satan.
b. Satan had a wife and children.
c. Not a physical relationship, but one of intimacy and obedience.
8. The term “son of Allah” or “child of Allah” is used in the Injil:
a. Of Isa only.
b. Of no one.
c. Of all who sincerely obey and love Allah.
9. When Isa is called Allah’s son in the Injil:
a. It implies a physical relationship with Allah.
b. It is used figuratively without any physical relationship to Allah.
c. It means Allah has physical children.
10. How would you explain the term “son of Allah” to someone who had never read the Injil?