Friday, June 24, 2005

Christianity and Other Religions Part Three

Question 4: What are the major differences between Christianity and Islam?


The biggest difference between Islam and Christianity is who we say Jesus is. Of the 6,236 verses in the Qur’an, 74 speak of Jesus Christ, and 42 of these verses refer to him indirectly.

What do Muslims believe about Jesus? Muslims respect and revere Jesus. Muslims believe that Jesus lived a sinless life and was born of a virgin.[11] While the Qur’an speaks very respectfully of both Jesus and Mary, the Qur’an insists that Jesus is only a man—not God or the Son of God. Muslims say that Jesus was created in the same way that Adam was created: “Jesus in Allah’s Sight is like Adam; He created him from dust, then He said to him: ‘Be’, and there he was.”[12] Islam explicitly says that Jesus is not God. Surah 9:30 reads: “The Christians say that the Messiah is the Son of God. God fight them! How they lie!”

The Qur’an also denies that Jesus died on the cross. Jesus’ enemies had planned to kill him, but God saved him and took him up to heaven. In Surah 4:157 we read, “…They said: ‘We killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of God.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but the likeness of him was put on another man (and they killed that man).” Islamic tradition says that the man killed on the cross was Judas, and that Judas only appeared to look like Jesus.[13]

To put it simply, the Islamic religion states that Jesus was a messenger:

O People of the Book, do not exceed the bounds of your religion, nor say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only Allah’s Messenger and His Word, which He imparted to Mary, and is a spirit from Him! So believe in Allah and His Messengers and do not say ‘three’ [gods]. Refrain; it is better for you. Allah is truly One God. How—glory be to Him—Could He have a son?[14]

According to the Qur’an, Jesus’ message had three parts surrounding the past, the present, and the future. Jesus had a message regarding the past—he confirmed and preserved the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Jesus had a message regarding the present—he brought the gift of a meal from heaven (the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper). According to Islamic tradition, Jesus’ message concerning the future was a prediction of a future messenger “who would come after him whose name would be Ahmad, the Prophet of Islam.[15]” Islam claims that historical Christianity has distorted Jesus’ mission and Islam must correct these mistakes.[16]


Isma’il al-Faruqi is a professor of Islamics at Temple University. He writes that the great difference between Christianity and Islam is on the subject of revelation. According to al-Faruqi, “God does not reveal Himself to anyone. Christians talk about the revelation of God Himself—by God of God—but that is the great difference between Christianity and Islam.”[1]

Christians believe that God came to earth in human form. Jesus Christ came to earth as God. There is no depth of God that is not consistent with what is revealed in Jesus Christ. So when people encounter Jesus, they encounter God. Christians often use two words to describe God. God is both transcendent and immanent. God as transcendent means that God is other. God is beyond our scope of comprehension. We cannot even scratch the surface of what it means to know God.

Christians also say that God is immanent. When we say that God is immanent, we say that God is with us and we can know God. We use both of these words to describe how God is both personal and beyond our comprehending. Christians hold these two views of God in tension. This tension exists in the Bible as well. In Isaiah 45:15 we read, “Truly, you are a God who hides yourself.” Only four verses later we read, “I have not spoken in secret…”[2] While this might seem difficult to hold in tension, we can say with confidence that even though we cannot wrap our minds around how big God is, God has chosen to reveal part of Godself to us. We speak of this with both confidence and modesty.

Christians believe that God freely chooses to reveal Godself to us. We do not just encounter facts or information about God, we are actually exposed to Godself! This does not mean that we know everything there is to know about God. God is so big (transcendent), that what we are capable of knowing about God is only a small drop in a large ocean. How can we know God and yet not know God, you may ask? Consider the story of Moses and the burning bush. God reveals Godself to Moses through the bush. However, God is not fully known. When Moses asks what God’s name is, God responds, “I am who I am.”[3] Although God reveals Godself to Moses, there is certainly a great deal of mystery behind this revelation. It is almost as if the light of God’s revelation is so bright that we are blinded. God is beyond what our soul can grasp.[4] When we see God, it is as if we are seeing through a glass dimly.[5]

Islamic tradition says that God cannot be both transcendent and immanent. Professor al-Faruqi explains: “You may not have complete transcendence and self-revelation at the same time.”[6] Islam says that God does not reveal Godself, but that God only reveals God’s will. “Islam teaches that God does not reveal himself to anyone in any way. God reveals only his will, which is found in the Qur’an.”[7] God is in many respects unknowable.[8]


Although some of the stories and teachings of the Bible and the Qur’an sound similar, there are some distinct differences between these two books. Muslims believe that while Christians had a holy book at one point, this book has been tampered with and no longer contains the full truth; only the Qur’an holds the full truth.[9]

Certain passages in the Qur’an state that Christians have misinterpreted their own text by failing to recognize that the Paraclete in the Gospel of John (which Christians call the Holy Spirit) is in reality speaking of the coming of Muhammad. “At times, the Qur’an manifest so much anger at Jews and Christians for failing to see that its teaching constitute the completion of their own scripture that it pronounces them to be enemies doomed to destruction.“[10]

References from the Qur’an on Christians and the Bible:

  • “Do not dispute with the people of the Book, save in the fairest way; except for those of them who are evildoers. And say: ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and to Him we are submissive’” (Surah 29:46).

  • “And with some of those who say: ‘We are Christians’, we made a covenant; but they forgot part of what they were reminded of so we stirred up enmity and hatred among them till the Day of Resurrection. Allah will let them know what they did” (Surah 5:14).

Since the Bible was compiled before Muhammad, there are not any specific references to Islam.

[1]Isma’il al-Faruqi, “On the Nature of Islamic Da’wah.” International Review of Mission. 65:260 (1976) 406. From hereon referred to as “al-Faruqi.”

[2] Isaiah 45:19.

[3] Exodus 3:14

[4] Theologians call this “apophaticsm.”

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:12

[6] al-Faruqi 406.

[7] McDowell 90.

[8] Taber 37.

[9] Jerald F. Dirks. Understanding Islam. (Maryland: Amana Publications, 2003) 276.

[10] Levenson 32.

[11] Surah 3:45-47.

[12] Surah 3:59.

[13] S. M. Zwemer. Muhammad or Christ? (London: Seely, Service &Co, 1916) 230.

[14] Surah 4:171.

[15] McDowell 114.

[16] McDowell 121.

1 comment:

pk said...

Great stuff Amanda. I also find the differing views of the 'condition of humanity' intriguing. Christianity viewing humans as in need of a Savior, in need of something or Someone supernatural, beyond themselves. We cannot save ourselves. Islam on the other hand sees humanity as being in need of being reminded. Muhammad, the Qur'an, the Caliphs, etc reminding the masses what Allah's will is. Follow the 5 pillars in community and you are as set as you're going to be. Pretty significant difference! (In Christian theological circles maybe we'd say it's the difference between Augustinianism and Pelagianism?)