The other day I was talking to a Muslim and brought up my concerns about whether the creature that visited Muhammad in the cave and ultimately led him to establish Islam was a good angel. As the story goes, three times over (1) this being applied great physical pressure on Muhammad, (2) ordered him to read/recite (the Arabic word, aqra’, means both), and (3) Islam’s prophet responded that he was unable to do so. Muhammad then ran home to his wife, Khadija, and besought her to wrap him up, as in a blanket.
I expressed concern that a fallen angel would precisely be the one to act in this violent fashion. My Muslim interlocutor said the following:
Muhammad had many future interactions with ‘Gabriel’, and nothing of this kind occurred again. We might not understand why God had the angel conduct itself as it did, but due to what followed–the founding of Islam and signs pointing to its divine origin–we can conclude that this episode should not give us pause about accepting the truth claims of the religion taught by Muhammad.
If we say that the devil showed himself to be scheming against Muhammad or humankind by how ‘Gabriel’ interacted with him, we could also speculate that Mary received the same treatment, just with a different strategy being employed.
I mentioned that the resurrection was a major reason for considering Jesus to be so credible. But my Muslim interlocutor noted that a Christian could say that a great miracle in which he believed–the resurrection of Jesus from the dead–was sufficient testimony to the credibility of his religion, while a Jew could ask that something comparable to a miracle which he accepted–the parting of the Red Sea by Moses–be performed so that he could believe in a subsequent religion, and no progress could be made. In other words, one cannot pick the great sign which one likes the most and set it being equalled or surpassed as the standard that would have to be met for his mind to be changed.
I also brought up that others have claimed to be a prophet since this case in seventh-century Arabia–Mormonism being an example that bears a couple of striking similarities to Islam. First, Joseph Smith, like Muhammad, claimed to restore the true message of Jesus after it had become corrupted. Second, what prompted them to say such was being visited by an angel and being given a new text. My Muslim interlocutor wanted to know if some other signs following the appearance of ‘Moroni’ to Joseph Smith are claimed which could make the religion more plausible, but I didn’t know enough about Mormonism to go further.
So, on what basis can Christians have certainty that the mother of God was indeed visited by a good angel but the prophets of Islam and Mormonism were visited by a fallen one? (Not to forget that they also could have been hallucinating or inventing tall tales–both logical possibilities.)