Islam and Christianity
This is the seventh in a series of posts about Islam. For more articles in this series, click on the links at the end of this article.
Islam’s birth took place in the Arabian Peninsula during a time in which both polytheism and Christian heresies abounded. Muhammad’s reformation efforts toward monotheism focused on the oneness of Allah and were influenced by his wife’s cousin, Waraqa, who was a Nestorian priest. Nestorianism taught the complete separation between Christ’s divine and human natures. Given these influences, we are bound to find similarities and differences, points of agreement and others of disagreement between Islam and Christianity. As enlightened believers, we should be aware of both sides without neglecting one at the expense of the other. Just like the Nestorian heresy resembled Christianity in several ways while denying core doctrines, Islam resembles Christianity in many parts while also denying some of its most important doctrines.
The Nature of God
Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, affirming that one God created the entire universe out of nothing, sovereignly controlling all things. However, Muslims believe in a god who is a monad, and deny that Jesus could be God born of Mary by the Holy Spirit (Surah 5:72). On the other hand, Christians believe in a Triune God who manifested his one essence in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is transcendent, high above his creation, but also immanent, condescending to relate to humans with his blessings and covenants, most importantly through the incarnation of Jesus. Muslims only believe in a transcendent God, one who cannot be known in a personal, intimate way. Since he is unlike humans, the latter cannot be created in his image nor know him personally but must simply submit to him to be at peace.
The Nature(s) of Jesus
Islam teaches that Jesus (Isa) is a prophet sent by Allah, born of a virgin, was without sin, and performed miracles. However, they deny his divine nature and do not believe that he was crucified, dead, and buried (Surah 4:157-159). The Quran states that Allah lifted Jesus to himself so that he can be a witness on the last day against those who blaspheme by saying Jesus was crucified. This is surely in contrast with what the Christian Scriptures reveal about Jesus Christ being the incarnation of God and the exact representation of his nature, dying to expiate sin, buried in a tomb, and rising again on the third day by the power of God, to be exalted to the majesty on high.
The Nature of Man
Muslims believe, like Christians, that humans are both physical and spiritual, that death is not final, that there is a day of judgment, a final resurrection, with rewards to the just and righteous. In exercising divine justice, Allah may simply choose to overlook sin without having to atone for it, as he seems to be unaffected by it. In fact, Islam teaches that Adam’s sin did not affect all humanity. As such, humans are not totally depraved and are truly able to do good works that may help them toward paradise by gaining Allah’s favor, while he overlooks their weaknesses. Christianity however clearly teaches that every human is a sinner having been affected by Adam’s sin, while God is holy and as such hates sin, being ready to pour his wrath on it. The Bible teaches that without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin, hence atonement could not be performed without Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.
God’s Love and Grace
Islam teaches that Allah’s love is conditioned on human behavior: he loves those who do good and earn his favor. Salvation is then through both works and faith, but one can never be fully sure of the outcome. Love is not one of the 99 names of Allah in Islam. God is seen as a sovereign master to whom humans are to submit as slaves. Christianity teaches that God is gracious, extending his love through the righteousness Christ earned on our behalf, calling many to fellowship with him, enabling them to do good works that prove their faith. God grants assurance by the Holy Spirit who seals the inheritance of the believers. Furthermore, God adopts those he redeems as his sons and inheritance, so that they are no longer slaves, but heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ.
Divine revelation is a cornerstone of both Islam and Christianity, affirming that God spoke directly and through prophets. While the Quran cites several of the biblical figures as prophets, Muslims believe that our Bible has been corrupted and its content cannot be trusted. They see the Quran as the only infallible revelation while Christians believe that the Bible alone is God’s final revelation. The Quran does not reveal any aspect of God’s nature but only his will. The Bible clearly reveals aspects of God’s nature, character, and will.
Both religions believe that morality is God-given, and as such affirm several similar points: man’s responsibility for his actions, sanctity of unborn human life, speaking the truth, not stealing. These similarities are helpful in allowing Christians and Muslims to work together to defend certain causes (such as protecting the unborn), but do not (and should not) allow for unity in worship.
From a Christian standpoint, Muhammad cannot be a prophet, because Jesus is the last prophet. Muhammad had some good qualities, but he was also a sinful, flawed man whose actions clearly fell short of the glory of God, whether by his many marriages (including to his daughter-in-law), wars, and murders. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the seal of the prophets, that he was without sin, serving as the perfect example for a Muslim. This is contrary to the Christian understanding that even the prophets and priests were sinners who needed redemption through the blood of the one and only sinless Son of Man, Jesus Christ.
For more articles in this series on Islam, click on the links below: