I have been reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians and particularly thinking over the content of chapter three. It seems to me that this and other parts of this letter could easily have been written for the Muslim community, still six hundred years from its emergence.
When Paul asks in 3:2 & 3 “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” and “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” I can’t help but think of these as pointed questions to the Muslim.
Islam is about following the whole law of Allah, just as Judaism was about following the whole of the law and the prophets. The Muslim Sharia governs every aspect of life. As the Torah has been interpreted for the Jews by their scholars in the form of the Talmud, so Muslim scholars have developed the themes of the Qu’ran in the volumes of Hadith.
In the gospel of Matthew chapter 23 Jesus speaks a series of “Woe to you” statements over the Pharisees. These were the men in His day who had become the custodians and interpreters of the law for the benefit of Israel.
He says (verses 23 & 24) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”. The law had become the be all and end all of the matter. It had become an obstacle to the life that the Father really desired for His people.
With the coming of Christ came the age of God’s grace. God’s people were no longer bound by the consequences of failing to keep the law. However centuries later, another spirit has sought to put us again under the law. How could anyone who has truly experienced the grace of God choose to live again under the law?
A Muslim asks in the Fatiha, the first chapter of the Qu’ran “Guide us to the Right Path”. It is an essential part of his daily prayer routine. Yet sadly Islam has missed the point that is expressed in Jesus words when he said that he had come not to abolish the law but to complete. The ways of God, and the Way to the ‘right path’ can only be understood in the light of the gift of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection have set us free from the curse of the law. As Paul reminds us: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”” and “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”” (Gal 3:10 & 11).
Let us live by faith and not by our works; Let us serve lovingly, diligently and responsibly; And let us live so that our Muslim brothers and sisters may be led to the knowledge of the Lord and into freedom from the curse of the law.