Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Problems with the Islamic Doctrine of Atonement


More Proof That Bassam Zawadi and Co. Are Truth Impaired Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

It is time again to expose some more of the dishonesty and inconsistencies of a Muslim apologist who has perfected the crafts of taqiyya and khida (1, 2, 3).

Bassam Zawadi has come out of hibernation in order to once again critique the Christian doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement by again appealing to the arguments of the late Christian apostate Dr. Ken Pulliam.

The Muhammadan Objections to Substitutionary Atonement

In this recent post, Zawadi seeks to establish the claim that the penal substitutionary theory of atonement (PST) undermines true forgiveness, and even gives an example illustrating why:

If someone owes you a thousand dollars and you wanted to “forgive this debt” that would mean that you would have to forgo the thousand dollars and absorb your losses. If Kevin owes you a thousand dollars and then you tell Kevin you don’t have to pay it anymore and that John could pay it instead, that doesn’t mean that you have truly forgiven Kevin’s debt. Kevin’s debt is still there even though it’s not Kevin paying it anymore. The only way for you to TRULY forgive Kevin’s debt is for you to absorb your losses. Similarly, the only way for God to TRULY forgive us our debt is to let go of the debt all together. Now we don’t say that God “absorbs His losses” because God is independent of all creatures and has no “losses”, but the logic is the same in that God would have to forgo the debt all together in order to TRULY forgive us our debts. However, in Christianity we don’t see that because Jesus takes the debt and pays it…

True forgiveness is a virtuous act of letting go of a wrong without exacting any form of payment or punishment in return. But Christianity teaches that Jesus bore the punishment of sinners on the cross fully paying off the debt. In that case there is nothing to forgive. Yes, only those who accept what Jesus has done for them will receive the benefits of his alleged sacrificial death for Christianity does not teach universalism, but in REALITY their debt to God wasn’t TRULY forgiven. (Three Big Problems With The Atonement)

Before we proceed any further, it is vitally important to highlight some of Zawadi’s key points here since we will be returning to them throughout our rebuttal:

“Similarly, the only way for God to TRULY forgive us our debt is to let go of the debt all together.”

“True forgiveness is a virtuous act of letting go of a wrong without exacting ANY FORM OF PAYMENT or punishment in return.”

And here is what Zawadi’s partner in taqiyya and khida, Paul Bilal Williams, had to say in respect to a statement from C. S. Lewis where he likened Jesus’ death to a debt which someone paid on behalf of on another:

CS Lewis in his classic Mere Christianity wrote:

‘The one most people have heard is the one I mentioned before–the one about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person? None at all that I can see, if you are thinking of punishment in the police-court sense. On the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not.’ (emphasis added)

Except that Jesus taught that even a debt could be forgiven by God…

So God freely forgives our sins and expects us to forgive our neighbour too. The Lord’s Prayer, of course, has the same commandment.

Jesus’ teaching finds an echo in the Quran where God speaks words of encouragement:

“O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

The Prophet Muhammad said:

The Most Merciful shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on the earth and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you.” (CS Lewis on the Penal Substitution Theory)

Both of these taqiyyists appeal to Jesus’ words in order to mislead the readers into thinking that this is what he himself taught (cf. Matthew 6:9-15; 18:21-35; Luke 7:36-50).

What Jesus Actually Taught In Context

It is apparent that these dawagandists want us to forget or ignore what these same Gospels have to say concerning Jesus’ teaching on the centrality and necessity of his vicarious death for the forgiveness of sins.

For instance, this same Jesus proclaimed that he would offer his life as a ransom for the salvation of many:

“just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His soul/life as a ransom (kai dounai ten psychen autou lytron) for many.” Matthew 20:28 – cf. Mark 10:45

Here we find an allusion to the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who offers his life as a sacrifice for the sins committed by the many:

Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My Righteous Servant will justify MANY, and He will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of MANY, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:5-12

Christ further taught his disciples that his body would be broken and his blood would be shed on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of many people:

“As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take and eat it; this is My body.’ Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Matthew 26:26-28 – cf. Mark 14:22-24

These statements affirm that Christ clearly viewed himself to be God come in the flesh since the OT scriptures are emphatically clear that no human being is capable of ransoming a single soul from ever perishing, let alone a multitude of lives, since this is a work which only God can perform:

“A brother does not ransom (lytroutai); shall a man ransom (lytrosetai)? He shall not give to God a propitiation (exilasma) for himself, or the price of the redemption (lytroseos) of his soul (tes psyches autou), though he labor for ever, and live to the end, [so] that he should not see corruption… But God shall ransom my soul (ho theos lytrosetai ten psychen mou) from the power of Hades, when he shall receive me.” Psalm 48:8-10, 16 LXX [Eng. 49:7-9, 15]

By, therefore, claiming to be able to save a great number of individuals from their sins, Jesus was basically making himself out to be God in the flesh (yet not the Father or the Holy Spirit).

Moreover, Jesus’ statements concerning his vicarious death further demonstrate that he saw absolutely no problem with divine forgiveness being predicated upon the need for substitutionary atonement. Unlike these proponents of khida, Christ did not think for a moment that vicarious sacrifice was somehow incompatible with true forgiveness. And neither did Muhammad, as we shall shortly see!

Returning to the subject at hand, the point of these taqiyyists is crystal clear: forgiveness excludes any notion of payment or atonement, since if God were to demand some form of restitution or reparation then it cannot be considered true forgiveness.

In light of this assertion, we would not expect to find any notion of atonement or expiation mentioned in the Islamic sources. Since Allah is able to forgive all sins then, per the taqiyyists’ definition and understanding of forgiveness, we would not expect him to demand payment of any kind. If he does so then Allah cannot be truly forgiving.

In other words, since/if Allah is ABLE to forgive all sins then, according to the reasoning of these taqiyyists, there is no NEED for atonement or expiation. So, why would Allah demand it, if there is absolutely no necessity?

With the foregoing in perspective we can now proceed to our next point.

What the Islamic sources actually teach

What makes the objections of these advocates of Islamic khida truly disturbing is that they conveniently forget to mention to their readers that the Quran has a lot to say concerning the centrality and necessity of atonement or expiation for the forgiveness of sins. In fact, the Quran even employs the Arabic verb kaffara, the very word for atonement/expiation, all throughout its pages in order to hammer this point.

The Quran on Substitutionary Atonement in the Torah/Old Testament

For instance, the Islamic scripture recalls the supposed instructions which Allah gave to the Israelites during the time of Moses. (We say supposed since the Allah of the Quran is not the One who revealed himself to Moses, or to any of the other true prophets and apostles of God):

And certainly Allah made a covenant with the children of Israel, and We raised up among them twelve chieftains; and Allah said: Surely I am with you; if you keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and believe in My apostles and assist them and offer to Allah a goodly gift, I will most certainly cover (laokaffiranna – “atone for”) your evil deeds, and I will most certainly cause you to enter into gardens beneath which rivers flow, but whoever disbelieves from among you after that, he indeed shall lose the right way. S. 5:12 Shakir

Here we are told that Allah promised the Israelites that he would personally atone for their sins if they were to faithfully do what he commanded them.

Now it only makes sense that the Quran would raise this issue of atonement since it claims to confirm the textual veracity and inspiration of the Scriptures which were in the hands of the Jews and Christians during Muhammad’s time:

He descended on you The Book with the truth, confirming to what (is) BETWEEN HIS HANDS (musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi), and He descended the Torah and the New Testament/Bible. From before guidance to the people, and He descended the Separator of Right and Wrong/Koran, that those who disbelieved with God's verses, for them (is) a strong (severe) torture, and God (is) glorious/mighty, (owner) of a revenge/punishment. S. 3:3-4 Ahmed Ali

The Jews and Christians were even commanded to faithfully obey and implement the rulings that were found in their respective Scriptures:

Yet how will they make thee their judge seeing THEY HAVE the Torah, wherein is God's judgment, then thereafter turn their backs? They are not believers. Surely We sent down the Torah, wherein is guidance and light; thereby the Prophets who had surrendered themselves gave judgment for those of Jewry, as did the masters and the rabbis, following such portion of God's Book as they were given to keep and were witnesses to. So fear not men, but fear you Me; and sell not My signs for a little price. Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down - they are the unbelievers. And therein We prescribed for them: 'A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds retaliation'; but whosoever forgoes it as a freewill offering, that shall be for him an expiation. Whoso judges not according to what God has sent down -- they are the evildoers. S. 5:43-45


And We caused Jesus, the son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming the Torah between his hands (musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi min al-tawrati); and We gave unto him the Gospel, wherein there was guidance and light, confirming the Torah between his hands (musaddiqan lima bayna yadayhi min al-tawrati), and as a guidance and admonition unto the God-fearing. Let the followers of the Gospel judge in accordance with what God has revealed therein. Whoever does not judge by what God has sent down, then these are the vile ones! S. 5:46-47

In fact, not only are we told that the Jews and Christians of Muhammad’s day had the Torah and the Gospel in their very own possession:

“Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) WITH THEM…” S. 7:157 Pickthall

We are also informed that Muhammad himself took the copy of the Torah which the Jews had and bore witness that this was indeed the very revelation which God had sent down!

“… It was reported that this part of the Ayah was revealed about some Jews who committed murder and who said to each other, ‘Let us ask Muhammad to judge between us, and if he decides that we pay the Diyah, accept his judgement. If he decides on capital punishment, do not accept his judgement.’ The correct opinion is that this Ayah was revealed about the two Jews who committed adultery. The Jews changed the law they had in their Book from Allah on the matter of punishment for adultery, from stoning to death, to a hundred flogs and making the offenders ride a donkey facing the back of the donkey. When this incident of adultery occurred after the Hijrah, they said to each other, ‘Let us go to Muhammad and seek his judgement. If he gives a ruling of flogging, then implement his decision and make it a proof for you with Allah. This way, one of Allah's Prophets will have upheld this ruling amongst you. But if he decides that the punishment should be stoning to death, then do not accept his decision.’ There are several Hadiths mentioning this story. Malik reported that Nafi` said that `Abdullah bin `Umar said, ‘The Jews came to Allah's Messenger and mentioned that a man and a woman from them committed adultery. Allah’s Messenger said to them…

<<What do find of the ruling about stoning in the Tawrah>> They said, “We only find that they should be exposed and flogged.” `Abdullah bin Salam said, “You lie. The Tawrah mentions stoning, so bring the Tawrah.” They brought the Tawrah and opened it but one of them hid the verse about stoning with his hand and recited what is before and after that verse. `Abdullah bin Salam said to him, “Remove your hand,” and he removed it, thus uncovering the verse about stoning. So they said, “He (`Abdullah bin Salam) has said the truth, ‘O Muhammad! It is the verse about stoning.’ The Messenger of Allah decided that the adulterers be stoned to death and his command was carried out. I saw that man shading the woman from the stones with his body.”’ Al-Bukhari and Muslim also collected this Hadith and this is the wording collected by Al-Bukhari. In another narration by Al-Bukhari, the Prophet said to the Jews…

<<What would you do in this case?>> They said, ‘We would humiliate and expose them.’ The Prophet recited…

<<Bring here the Tawrah and recite it, if you are truthful.>> So they brought a man who was blind in one eye and who was respected among them and said to him, ‘Read (from the Tawrah).’ So he read until he reached a certain verse and then covered it with his hand. He was told, ‘Remove your hand,’ and it was the verse about stoning. So that man said, ‘O Muhammad! This is the verse about stoning, and we had hid its knowledge among us.’ So the Messenger ordered that the two adulterers be stoned, and they were stoned. Muslim recorded that a Jewish man and a Jewish woman were brought before Allah's Messenger because they committed adultery. The Messenger of Allah went to the Jews and asked them…

<<What is the ruling that you find in the Tawrah for adultery?>> They said, ‘We expose them, carry them (on donkeys) backwards and parade them in public.’ The Prophet recited…

<<Bring here the Tawrah and recite it, if you are truthful.>> So they brought the Tawrah and read from it until the reader reached the verse about stoning. Then he placed his hand on that verse and read what was before and after it. `Abdullah bin Salam, who was with the Messenger of Allah , said, ‘Order him to remove his hand,’ and he removed his hand and under it was the verse about stoning. So the Messenger of Allah commanded that the adulterers be stoned, and they were stoned. `Abdullah bin `Umar said, ‘I was among those who stoned them and I saw the man shading the woman from the stones with his body.’ Abu Dawud recorded that Ibn `Umar said, ‘Some Jews came to the Messenger of Allah and invited him to go to the Quff area. So he went to the house of Al-Midras and they said, “O Abu Al-Qasim! A man from us committed adultery with a woman, so decide on their matter.” They arranged a pillow for the Messenger of Allah and he sat on it and said…

<<Bring the Tawrah to me.>> He was brought the Tawrah and he removed the pillow from under him and placed the Tawrah on it, saying

<<I TRUST YOU and He Who REVEALED IT TO YOU.>> He then said…

<<Bring me your most knowledgeable person.>> So he was brought a young man…’ and then he mentioned the rest of the story that Malik narrated from Nafi`. These Hadiths state that the Messenger of Allah issued a decision that conforms with the ruling in the Tawrah, not to honor the Jews in what they believe in, for the Jews were commanded to follow the Law of Muhammad only. Rather, the Prophet did this because Allah commanded him to do so. He asked them about the ruling of stoning in the Tawrah to make them admit to what the Tawrah contains and what they collaborated to hide, deny and exclude from implementing for all that time. They had to admit to what they did, although they did it while having knowledge of the correct ruling…” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 5:41; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

This is where the problem arises for these taqiyyists.

These happen to be the very same Scriptures which amply testify that God forgave the sins of his people on the basis of substitutionary atonement!

“And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that eateth any manner of blood, I will set My face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement (lakapper) for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement (yakapper) by reason of the life. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel: No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.” Leviticus 17:10-12 Jerusalem Publication Society (JPS)

What makes this interesting is that the word kaphar is actually the Hebrew cognate of the Arabic verb kaffara! More on this later.

The inspired Christian Greek Scriptures concur with the Hebrew Bible concerning this point:

“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 9:22

This brings us to the conclusion of the first part of our rebuttal. It is time to move to Part 2.