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Progressive Revelation and Islam

October 13, 2011

One tenet of Christianity holds that God did not give the fullest revelation of himself at first. The revelation of who God is and how he feels toward mankind was given slowly, presumably in small doses so we could digest it. Therefore, the introduction of the New Testament supersedes any possible conflicting messages of the Old Testament. The God of Justice (sometimes seen as the Angry, Vengeful God) of the Old Testament is revealed as both a God of Love and a God of Justice in the New Testament. The God who chose the Jews in the Old Testament grafts in the Gentiles in the New Testament. Progressive revelation does not mean that the truths differ. It simply means that God chose to emphasize one element of his nature first and then bring in other elements later.

Islam also believes in Progressive Revelation. This article, written in 1997 amply illustrates the many variations of Islam’s principle of Revelation. The muslim recognizes God’s activity in Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus –  but then asserts the fullness of God’ revelation is given through Muhammed. But there is another element of Islam’s progressive revelation which today’s world needs to understand.

Muhammed did teach a doctrine of harmony and peace with practicers of other faiths. Today’s more peaceful muslims point to this and say their more radical islamic counterparts are wrong when they blow up buildings. But the teachings on inclusion and peace are early in Muhammed’s life. His later teachings (carrying more weight than the earlier ones) teach that all infidels need to be destroyed. It is critical for westerners to understand that there are two themes in Muhammed’s teaching on dealing with non-muslims: Peace and Warfare. Peace is the first teaching, but warfare is the final teaching.

Is it true that many Muslims want peace? Yes. But the doctrine of progressive revelation means that many muslims can rightly claim warfare as more in line with the final revelation of the Prophet. It’s always good to know where things stand.

UPDATE: My friend Charles has pointed out that the article quoted here is from a Bahai perspective and so may not reflect the most accurate understanding of Islamic thought. However, it still stands that Islam recognizes that all Revelation from God is progressive.

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