There are many more Muslims who are moderate than the extremist Muslims in the world. Some say that Islam is really a religion of peace, and ISIS, al Qaeda and [you name the group] are just aberrations; they are not really Islamic. If that is the case, then it appears they have hijacked the religion and millions are jumping on board.
Current news reports of terrorism at the hands of Muslim jihadists all around the world have prompted me to learn more about Islam, its history, its scripture (the Qur’an), its quasi-scripture (the Hadith and Sunnah), and its two main flavors, Sunni and Shiite – both of which have spawned terror.
Many people carry the notion that all roads lead to the top of the mountain, that Islam and Christianity (and Buddhism, Hindu, Shinto, Animism, Paganism and you name the ism) are all paths to God. If that is so, we should be able to compare and find some common threads.
In this article, I explore a comparison of Islam to Christianity in several different aspects. Others have done more comprehensive comparisons, but here are things that strike me.
Regardless of history and culture, the roots of a religion are found in its sacred texts. Even comparing the Qur’an and the Bible, however, is problematic. Muslims are quick to note that the Qur’an can only be understood properly in Arabic. In fact, Allah, they will say, can only be worshiped in Arabic; and prayers can only properly be said in Arabic.
The Bible has been translated into as many languages as have written alphabets, and some for which alphabets had to be created to translate the Bible. The Bible can be communicated in any language and every language of the world, while the Qur’an, we are told, can only be read and properly understood in one language. The God of the Bible can be worshiped and known in any language; Allah can only be worshiped and known in one language.
One couple in my church spent most of their lives living among and learning the language of a small people group in the Amazon who had no alphabet or written language before they arrived. They befriended and lived among these people. They developed an alphabet for them and have now translated the Bible in writing into their language. Many others have done the same round the world. This stands in stark contrast to the Islamic approach.
I ask you, if God, the creator of all people, wanted to communicate to all the people of the world, which way makes the most sense?
The Character and Nature of God
In the Qur’an, Allah is one; he is revealed as the one and only God. He is not our father. He has no son. He was neither begotten nor begot anyone. Allah is unknowable, and all we know of him is his will. (Religionfacts) Allah is merciful, but his mercy is only experienced in the guidance provided through his messengers, Mohammad being the chief one, and it is up to people to get in line. Allah does not exist in anything, and nothing exists in Allah. He is completely “Other” as some might say.
This stands in contrast to the Christian revelation of God as a Father who emptied Himself to take on human form as Jesus, God the Son, who became like us and communicated the heart of the Father to us. He allowed Himself to be crucified to atone for our sin; He rose from the grave, conquering sin and death; and He left us God the Spirit who is always with us, willing to dwell in us, providing comfort, help, empowerment.
Allah is revealed in Islam as unapproachable and unpredictable. Allah is a God for whom worship, prayer and appeals are unrequited. God reveals Himself in Christianity as being approachable to the one who comes in spirit and truth, without pretense or ulterior motive. The Bible reveals a God who is willing to manifest Himself to us and interact with us in different forms. He is Emmanuel – God with us. We are invited to ask, seek and knock; and the God of the Bible promises to answer, to be found and to open the door.
The Highest Calling of Believers
No greater act in Islam can be done than for a Muslim to die fighting for Allah. No greater act has been done in Christianity than God emptying Himself to become a man and laying down His life for all mankind to save us from sin and death.
Muslims are told to give up their lives in war, fighting for Allah; Christians are told to lay down their lives for others in love, following the example of Jesus. (Greater love has no man than that he lays his life down for another.)
The Commands to Spread the Message
Muslims are commanded to convert infidels, extract a payment from them or kill them. Waging jihad against the infidels is a holy pursuit. Christians are commanded to spread the Gospel (Good News), but in doing so Christians are commanded to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. No greater commandment exists than to love God and to love others as ourselves – including loving our enemies.
Many people are quick to point out that Christians often have not lived their lives in a way that is exemplary of these commands in the Bible. Although many people who call themselves Christians have not lived as they have been commanded, if more Christians lived as they have been directed, the world would be a better place.
What would the world be like if more Muslims lived as they have been commanded?
Treatment of Men and Women
Muslim law forbids women from exposing their flesh and condones the harsh treatment of women compared to the treatment of men. The testimony of women is attributed only half the weight as the testimony of men in court. Women may be beaten (and should be beaten) by their husbands according to the Qur’an. (“The husband should not beat up his wife without her committing a most severe crime”; “Nobody should beat up his wife as he does beat up his slave. He should make love with her later some time.” (Alahazrat.net))
In Islam, “Man is, undoubtedly, made a ruler over the woman….” A husband is instructed to “censure the life style of his wife….” Only husbands can divorce their wives without external authority. (Alahazrat.net)
The Bible recognizes differences between men and women too, but men are instructed to love their wives and not be harsh (Col.3:19); to be understanding and to honor them (1 Pet. 3:7); to love their wives as Christ loved them and to give themselves up for their wives. (Eph. 5:25). Nowhere does the Bible say that men are to rule over women. (Felicity Dale)
The relationship of a man to a woman in the Bible is like the relationship of Christ to the Church. Jesus put the Church before Himself and died for her. Jesus valued the Church above all things. In Islam, women are to be treated more like children or even chattel than an object deserving of sacrificial love and devotion.
Dealing with Sin
The Qur’an deals harshly with sinful behavior. Hands are cut off for stealing. Flogging or stoning to death is the punishment for adultery or fornication. Hypocrisy is to be punished with execution or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides or exile from the land. (javedahmad.tripod.com) These may not be the practices of all Muslims, but this is what the Qur’an and the Hadith instruct.
While there is much in the Old Testament that seems to suggest that God is harsh about sin, Christians interprets the Law and the Prophets as Jesus revealed to us. “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Mathew 7:12)
The most famous demonstration of God’s response to sin is seen in the way Jesus reacts when the religious leaders brought a woman caught in adultery to Him. Their interpretation of the Law of Moses was that she should be stoned. Jesus replied, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) After the judgmental crowd went away, this interchange took place (John 8:11):
“’Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”
What a different response from the requirements of Islam!
To be clear, the Bible does not condone sin. Jesus did not condemn the adultery in the example of the adulteress, rather He said, “Sin no more.” The Bible and the Qur’an deal differently with sin and the relationship between God and man. There is a crucial distinction.
Islam is all about how one acts. One must do the right things or pay the price; one must avoid the wrong things or suffer punishment. “Whatever conclusion one comes to on that issue, one thing seems beyond dispute – belief by itself is not enough for one to be saved but it must be accompanied by repentance and good works….” (Answering Islam) “The Qur’an teaches that all our deeds, good or evil, will be weighed in a balance, and our eternal destiny is based on whether our good deeds outweigh our bad ones.” (Id) “Those who perform good deeds will be rewarded with heaven (3:195), the wicked will be punished in hell (43:74-77).”Jihad is the only sure way to salvation. (letusreason.org)
Christians and people who think they understand Christianity actually draw similar conclusions about God. Yes, the Bible addresses sin, but it addresses sin in a different way.
Jesus called the religious leaders in the First Century “whitewashed tombs”! If you read the Sermon on the Mount, which is, perhaps, the best example of how Jesus interprets the Old Testament, you can see that God is actually looking for greater commitment than outward obedience; He is looking for the submission of the heart. (This is the Law and the Prophets, by Eric Lyons)
Paul explains in Colossians 2:23 that strict laws “have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” He goes on in Colossians 3 to describe the relationship God wants with us in which we allow God to dwell in us and to change us from the inside out.
The Bible reveals a God who died to atone for our sins and, in dying and rising again, He defeated sin and death. He offers to us the same victory that we can access simply by believing in and submitting to God. God does not expect us to conform our actions by our own strength because, as fallen, imperfect beings, we cannot!
The point of the law is to expose the fact that we are unable, on our own, to satisfy God’s demands. He satisfied them for us. By embracing God’s grace and submitting to His lordship, He takes residence in us and begins to conform us to His image.
Many people want God to allow anything and forgive everything, but God is perfectly just. Actions have consequences. It is necessarily so in a world in which the ultimate goal is for the creation to enter into loving relationship with its Creator. Love requires choice/will. We would have no choice, and there would be no love, without a world in which actions and decisions have no consequences. The ability to choose God and choose good must be allow for ability to reject God and reject good.
But God is also perfectly merciful. He desires to have mercy, not to judge. He provided a way, Himself, that we may be justified by becoming the sacrifice for our sins – paying the price that perfect justice required – so that he could show mercy to those who would receive it. He provided an out, and He made salvation accessible to everyone who will receive it.
The Big Picture
Islam is an outside in religion; Christianity is an inside out religion. Islam is coercive (convert or die); Christianity is relational (God in us). Islam demands conformance or punishment; Christianity offers transformance by the indwelling work of God’s grace and His life changing power in us. “God is not in the business simply of instructing the cripple to walk but of healing and enabling him or her to walk.” (Answering Islam)
There are many differences in the eschatology of Islam and Christianity that are yin and yang (to borrow from another religious model). The end times picture that the Qur’an paints is the inverse of the end times picture that the Bible paints. (For a fascinating comparison of the two, see 76 minute explanation from a Muslim convert)
When comparing Islam and Christianity, we see that the two religions diverge in almost diametrically opposite ways in the most essential principles of faith. Any similarities are superficial; the differences run deep. The Qur’an and the Bible paint two very different pictures of God in relation to man. The differences are stark and defy harmonious interpretation. They are two roads for sure, but they lead in very different directions.
If you are reading this and uncertain that what I have written is true. Listen to the story of a Muslim who became a Christian. (Dr. Nabeel Qureshi)