This post is really a continuation of the previous post Does God Speak to Us Today? Here, I thought I would start a discussion of religious faiths that may stem from the Judeo-Christian, but are informed by prophets and revelation that appear after Christ.
I can’t name them all—probably an impossible task—but I will try to cover the best known of these faiths. Islam, without doubt, is the most popular of these. The Islamic faithful number almost two billion souls and is the fastest growing of today’s religious traditions among what are often called the ‘great religions.’¹
Islam is an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion just as are Judaism and Christianity. That there has been such fierce antagonism between these three over a number of centuries always surprises me, though I suppose it is not theology that divides them as much as politics in its various forms.
Like Christianity, Islam holds that the time of prophecy has ended. For Islam, Muhammad (Muhammad ibn ʿAbdullāh) is the “Seal of the Prophets.” That is, he is the last prophet. The Qur’ân, Islam’s holy book, was revealed to Muhammad by God through the angel Gabriel (Jibril) and the Islamic faithful understand it to be the only scripture protected by God from any distortion or corruption.²
Furthermore, Islamic scholars argue against any truly meaningful translation of the Qur’ân. The text, they argue, was transmitted in Arabic and must remain so, unfortunately out of the reach of speakers of other languages, even Islamic followers. Still, memorizing and reciting the Qur’ân, as if it were a kind of music, is highly encouraged.³
As I understand it, revelation has not stopped in Islam, although it is of a different order or kind than what one might call specifically ‘divine revelation.’ Divine revelation, the highest form, addresses itself to liturgical and eschatological issues. It answers our questions regarding God’s purpose for creating mankind, and acts as a guide for following the correct way. Divine revelation ended with Muhammad. It is formed distinctly by words, words as could be published in a book.
Revelation of a different order is disclosed to an individual’s heart, so to speak, or to his reason. That is, he ‘hears’ the word of God in some other fashion. This second, lower form might be described as hearing the word as if ‘from behind a veil.’
Footnote 1. Far be it for me to label any of the religious traditions as anything less than great (in their own way), but I suspect the label ‘great religions’ simply applies to great numbers of faithful. The familiar list includes Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
This list, however, can be expanded easily enough to include the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, Chinese traditional religion, Sikhism, Bahai, Neo-Paganism, Jainism, Shinto, Unitarian-Universalism, and certainly more.
Footnote 2. In truth, various codices were created by Muhammad’s companions after his death and there are small differences among them. The Caliph Uthman established a standard version, now known as Uthman’s codex, and it is widely considered the archetype of the Qur’ân we know today.
Footnote 3. I can’t help but compare this to the Roman Catholic Mass celebrated in Latin rather than the vernacular. Translations from the Latin were always made available, of course, but one must realize that the majority of the Catholic faithful followed the Mass as a kind of holy pantomime. I’ve experienced the Latin Mass and found it strangely compelling, involving in a way not dependent on language.
As for translating Holy Scripture, I’m always a little taken back by those English speakers who hold to the King James Bible as if it were the Word of God, as first presented, and not a step away from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek.