The Nature of the Islamic Worldview and the Critical Differences between Islam and Christianity

Introduction

Despite both Muslims and Christians espousing to similar beliefs e.g. in the monotheistic understanding of God, there exist strong differences between the two religions. The concept of monotheism understood by Muslims is quite different from that pursued by the Christians, the Islamic view of sin and its remedy is foreign to Christianity and the deity of Christ is central to the Christian belief which is regarded as blasphemous to the Muslim. This essay seeks to show critical differences that exist between these two worldviews, Islam and Christianity by appealing to their sacred texts and engage advocates from each camp.

The “oneness” (tawhid) of God and the implication of tawhid for mankind

Central to the Islamic belief is the idea of the absolute and indivisible oneness of God (tawhid). In this idea, it is critical to understand that Islam is a strictly monotheistic religion and is intolerant to the Christian idea of the Trinity or that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. For instance, in the Quran, we read, ‘Say: He is God, The One and Only; God the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, Nor is He begotten; and there is none Like unto Him.'(Surah 112) From an Islamic perspective, Allah is the only One who does not beget sons as is advanced in Christian theology e.g. John 3:16.

A study of Islamic literature has led this writer to discover a unique use of two words ahad and wahid to describe the oneness of God as taught in the Quran. Ahad is used to deny the possibility that God has a partner or companion associated with him. Thus, there is a negation of numbers when it comes to Allah unlike in the Christian tradition that advances the theory of the Trinity. Wahid, on the other hand, means ‘the One, Same God for all.’ These two words seem to suggest or imply the singleness and unity of the same God for all peoples which, according to Muhamad (1978) is the distinguishing characteristic of Islam.

Interestingly, from a Muslim perspective, there exists one greater sin, the sin of shirk, that is, assigning partners to God.The Quran is quite clear in that it presupposes the existence of one eternal supreme being who does not need anything. Everything needs him (Quran 2:255). The Quran lists several attributes of God which are almost similar or at times the same as those of both Christians and Jews. It implores the use of approximately ninety’nine names to Allah and all such names imply God’s sovereignty. In particular, there seems to be an emphasis on God’s sovereignty, justice, mercy, will, and his inscrutability.

The Islamic orthodox position clearly denies a plurality or the Christian’s understanding of God. Those who stand in direct contradiction of the Quranic revelation of the oneness of God are unbelievers and blasphemous. As for such, Christians because of their theological views cannot be deemed to be worshipping the same God. Muslims thus castigates Christians as those who are guilty of polytheism and tritheism. Thus, in over two thousand years, Christians according to Muslims, are serious heretics who have lured billions of souls to an eternal hell because they worship three gods.

On the other hand, a Christian’s understanding of the Oneness of God is not without merit. Christian theologians see loopholes in the Islamic philosophical understanding of God and further claim that Muslims fail to properly understand the biblical data on the Trinity. While the term Trinity is not a biblical coinage, it was coined by Christian theologians to try to explain the relationship of the Godhead between the Father, Son, and the Spirit. Sadly, Muslims interpret the concept of Christ’s sonship from a fleshly and carnal sense. For them, to beget implies a physical act and this is a total absurdity. Shorrosh (1988) has indicated that Muslim scholars perceive the act of begetting as belonging to animals and they associate it with sex.

Christian theologians and apologists claim that this supposition is unnecessary and unfounded especially when we put into consideration that the term ‘begotten’ is used by Christina authors to refer to the special relationship that Christ has with the Father and not to some kind of physical generation (Colossians 1:16-17). Geisler and Saleeb (2002) has clearly noted that the error is among Muslim scholars who associate the Virgin Birth with the idea of Christ’s sonship. This attribution lies heavily with Muhamad’s surah (Quran 5:119). At times Muslims are guilty of taking Christian Scriptures out of context to prove their points and to deny the divinity of Christ.

In the final analysis, Muslims are to be commended for their high monotheistic view. Unlike Christians, they have chosen not to indulge themselves with philosophical terms that seem confusing to the human mind but sought simplicity in trying to explain the nature and oneness of God. However, their understanding of God has a number of significant flaws and weaknesses since certain passages in the Quran seem to have been greatly influenced by the Trinitarian understanding of God. The illustrations used in Islam on the plurality of God in the Trinity are unjustifiable because they seem to be clouded by biases and a misunderstanding of the nature of the relationship between Christ and God.

Further, the implications for the Tawhid cannot be ignored. For the Muslim, all other religions are in error and offer a low view of God. This leads to the need to Islamicize the world and bring it back to Allah, the true monotheistic God. Why? Because from an Islamic perspective, Allah is a Master (rabb) and all humanity has to be obedient subjects or slaves (abd). Also, there is no intimate relationship between God and man since one is a Master and the other is a slave.

Islamic and Christian views of sin and its remedy

In both Islam and Christianity, there is a belief in sin and its remedy. However, the two worldviews do not seem to agree on their presentations. Lynn (2016) strongly believes that the concept of sin and the role it plays is central to Christianity, but it is relatively marginal in Islam. For instance, from an Islamic perspective, the doctrine of sin as held by Christians does not exist. Islam believes that every human being is born of a pure state and has no traces of Adam’s sin which was forgiven when he repented (Quran 6:165). Moreover, Muslims claim that Man’s fall in the garden had no further effect on the nature of man and creation (Geisler and Saleeb, 2002:109-134). For most Muslims, the fall of man in the garden was a symbolic event, highly allegorical. Acting against God’s law of partaking the forbidden fruit does not necessarily entail divine punishment and condemnation. Thus, for a Muslim, Adam did not commit sin but only made a mistake. See a discussion in Romans 5:12-19 that speaks of Adam’s sin as bringing condemnation to the whole human race. This is in direct contradiction to an Islamic theology.[1] Hence, to put a remarkable stress on Adam’s sin as does Christian theologians is to be biased.

For the Christian, an understanding of sin and its remedy is rooted in the Old Testament covenant between God and Israel. From the onset, the biblical narrative shows God’s creation of the universe which was good (Genesis 1-2). In Genesis 3, sin entered into the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and from Genesis 4 forward, their progeny began to sin and incrementally increased in the depths of their depravity and the barbarity of their behavior (Bird 2013). Historically, Christians have not agreed to the finer details on how the concept of Adam’s sin affects humanity. McGrath (2001:445-6) has summed up the three views as, 1. Sin is a hereditary disease which is passed from one generation to another, 2. Sin is a power which holds sus captive, and from whose grip we are unable to break free by ourselves and 3. Sin is an essentially judicial or forensic concept – guilt – which is passed down from one generation to another.

Sin separates mankind from God and man is incapable of his own doing to make a come back to God without a mediator and atonement. From Romans 5, Paul seems to suggest that the universal effect of Adam’s sin as the author of death and condemnation is reversed by Christ’s righteous act of leading to life and justification. Bird (2013:666-683) asserts that all people stand in a relationship to either Adam or Christ, and their relationship with them determines their eternal destiny. Those who belong to Adam are under the sentence of death because of his disobedience and those who belong to Christ are assured of salvation.

From a more biblical perspective, it appears that the issue of the remedy of sin lies solely in God alone. McGrath further believes that God does not leave us where we are naturally, incapacitated by sin and unable to redeem ourselves, but gives us grace in order that we may be healed, forgiven and restored (McGrath, 2001:446). This grace is found in none other than Christ (John 1:14; Acts 4:12). Also see:  John 8:24; 14:6; 10:1-2, 9; Acts 4:12; Revelation 5:1-9; 1 John 2:22, 23; Isaiah 43:11; Hosea 13:4; 1 Timothy 2:5

 To this end, God has given his Son to be an eternal sacrifice and offering for sin since he is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). All man’s attempts to be righteous apart from Christ thus frustrates God’s provision of grace through the blood of Christ. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that Christ’s death on the cross worked so much better than the Old Testament understanding od atonement since, under the Old Covenant, the blood of animals could not take away sins. However, when Christ came, he dealt with sin and the devil once and for all, obtaining eternal redemption and salvation for all humanity, especially to those who would heed the gospel call and be saved.

However, from an Islamic perspective, salvation comes only through Allah. Only those who have subjected to Allah’s demands and have accepted the teachings of Mohammed his prophet can enter into Heaven and find salvation (Quran 4:154-158). In other words, in Islam, salvation is meritorious (Quran 17:13); one has to earn his way into salvation through certain religious rituals such as almsgiving (Quran 9:103). Rauf (1974) gives a list of what can be done to make one into a truly Muslim person. However, in Christianity, salvation is a free gift that is given to whosoever is willing to come to God through Christ. As Lynn points out, “Only by the sacrifice of Christ can man become righteous before God, in old and new covenant terms.”

Several Christian Scriptures clearly indicate that salvation comes only by faith, through grace (Ephesians 2:8, 9; (Romans 3:20, 24, 27, 28; Romans 4:4, 6, 16; Titus 3:5).

Jesus’ divinity, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension

In understanding the differences that lie between a Christian Christology and how Muslim views Christ, it is important to point that Muslim’s worldview of the oneness of God is the central departure point for all their theologies and the yardstick from which all theologies are judged. Thus, if as the Muslim assumes that God can’t have a Son, then this too has serious implications on how Jesus’ divinity is to be understood. It’s either Jesus was a deluded madman or He was who he claimed to be. Since the Quranic texts presume Jesus was a mere human and a prophet [2], the writer will turn to the testimony of eyewitness accounts of the Gospels and the writings of early New Testament witnesses. Ajijola (1978) believes that Jesus was not who he claimed to be. He further argues that the Gospels accord Jesus a status, not a shade higher than that of Muhammad. Thus, for Muslims, Jesus’ claims of divinity are just lies.[3]

At the heart of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). Christ’s resurrection is the central proof of his claims of divinity, proof that he was God manifest in the flesh (Romans 1:1-4). It appears then, that Muslims deny the death of Christ on the cross and his resurrection and treats it with a skeptical eye. This is however contradictory to Christ’s prophecies, claims, and witness of the Bible. Besides, there exists today an overwhelming evidence for Christ’s historicity and death on the cross. Mcdowell and Gilchrist (1983) clearly highlights several proofs of Christ’s death and resurrection as they respond to Muslim scholars which this writer has seen to be valid arguments. However, a turn to biblçical verses is enough to warrant a cause for the death of Christ.

The Gospels tell the story of the historical Jesus and even quotes Jesus’ own direct words. The following passages clearly speak of Christ’s own prediction of his death and resurrection (John 2:19-21; 10:10-11; Matthew 12:40 and Mark 8:31).[4] Another interesting fact is that all the resurrection predictions of Christ are based on his death. It is logical to conclude that the prophets could not have spoken of a resurrection of the Messiah if they had not foreseen his death (c.f.Psalm 16:10; Matthew 17:22-23). Geisler and Saleeb (2002:233-237) gives thirteen reasons why Christ’s death is a historical certainty. They conclude by saying that there is an unbroken testimony from the Old Testament to the church fathers, among believers and unbelievers that attest to Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection which miraculously confirms his unique claims to be the son of God. His ascension is further proof of his divinity since he defied the natural laws of gravity. Only the New Testament’s view is superior to that of the Quran in that, the NT presupposes a second bodily coming of Christ at the end of time, which could not have been possible had Christ not risen from the dead (c.f. Acts 1-2; Revelation 1:7).

 As pertaining Jesus’ claims to deity, the New Testament provides an abundant witness. However, it has to be stated here that most Muslims views the New Testament documents as a fraud and unreliable. They see the Quran as the only purely preserved word of God. However, for the Christian, there exists numerous evidence on the historical reliability of the New Testament text. If assumed then that the NT documents are reliable, then it is reasonable to believe that their writings are credible since most of the NT writers were eyewitnesses of the events they recorded.[5]

The Gospel of John is one of the unique books of the Bible since, in it, it clearly articulates the question of the Deity of Christ. The opening chapter (John 1:1-14) clearly indicates that Jesus is divine, the eternal Logos who was God but chose to incarnate and dwell among humanity. In John 8:58, Jesus is recorded claiming to have been in existence even in the time of Abraham. The gospel of John attributes several I AM statements to Christ which in Jewish understanding could only be attributed to God. Moreover, the testimony of Nicodemus seems to suggest that Jesus’ miracles were unique signs of his deity (John 3).

Jesus himself claimed to be the son of God (Luke 22:70; John 10:36; 19:7).[6] In his earthly ministry, he did what normal humans could not do, namely, to forgive sins and accept worship. Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 18:26; 28:9, 17; Mark 5:6; Luke 24:52; John 5:22, 23; John 9:38; Matthew 9:6 Mark 2:7. The apostle Paul clearly states that God was manifested in the flesh and that in Christ, all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form ( (1 Timothy 3:16; Colossians 2:9). The unknown author of Hebrews further sheds the light of who Christ is in his prolog to the book (Hebrews 1) and in the Apocalypse, Christ does what no other human or angel can do. This is sufficient proof from the New Testament that Christ is God.

While Muslims seem to agree with certain points such as Christ’s virgin birth (Quran 19:16-26; Isaiah 7:14), they go as far as claiming that he is just a created being like Adam: “Jesus is like Adam in the sight of Allah. He created him of dust and then said to him: ‘Be,’ and he was.” (Quran 3:55, 58) However, the Bible’s ample witness to the pre-existence of Christ is overwhelming.[7]

It is important then to understand that Jesus? Claim to be the only way to God (John 14:6) carries more weight when examined in light of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension and personal claims about being the son of God. There has never been in history an individual who remarkedly fulfilled the prophecy, lived a miraculous life and rose from the dead not to die again as did Christ. This observation ahs eternal implications and points to salvation exclusively being in Christ alone (Acts 4:12; John 14:6 and 1 Timothy 2:5).

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is evident that the worldviews of Muslims and Christians are quite contradictory. There are several irreconcilable differences especially in the way the monotheism of God is understood, the issues of sin, and salvation, and the person of Christ, his deity, and place as God’s only begotten son. In the final analysis, the Christian’s view on the remedy of sin and salvation stands far superior to the Islamic view.

Notes

[1] See a discussion in Romans 5:12-19 that speaks of Adam’s sin as bringinging condemnation to the whole human race. This is in direct contradiction to an Islamic theology.

[2] Islam considers Jesus a prophet just like Moses, Abraham, and Noah. (See a discussion in Imam Mohamad Jawad Chirri, Inquiries About Islam (Beirut, 1965), p. 159). In fact, the Surahs clearly claim that God cannot have a Son (surah 4:171; 19:92; 112:3; 23:91; 19:88; 6:101-103). This is not in line with Jewish religious thought too, which, though in doubt if God can have a Son or not, left the question unanswered (Proverbs 30:4).

[3] See the discussion in Abdalati’s Islam in Focus, and Sulaiman Ahid Mussafir, Jesus, A Prophet of Islam.

[4] It is to be understood that these predictions are in accordance to the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of the same (Isaiah 53:5-10; Psalm 22; Daniel 9:26 and Zechariah 12:10)

[5] Matthew was an eyewitness and an apostle; Mark was a disciple of Peter; Luke was a contemporary of Christ and John was a disciple of Christ, also an eyewitness. Paul further argues that in his lifetime, many eye witnesses were still alive.

[6] See also, John 4:26; 8:23; 10:30; 13:13; 14:7-10.

[7]  John 1:1-3,10; 3:13; 6:62; 8:35, 58; 17:5, 24; Romans 11:36;1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 3:9; Philippians 2:5; Colossians 1:15-19; Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 3:14

References

Abdalati, Hammudah. Islam in Focus. Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1975.

Ajijola, Alhaj AD. The Essence of Faith in Islam. Lahore, Pakistan: Islamic Publications Limited, 1978.

Bird, Michael F. Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Gilchrist, Josh Mcdowell, and John. The Islam Debate. San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1983.

Lynn, Mac. Islam and Christianity. West Monroe, LA: Nations University, 2016.

Mahmud, Abdel Haleem. The Creed of Islam. Unknown: World Islam Festival Trust, 1978.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001.

Muffasir, Sulaiman Shahid. Jesus, A Prophet in Islam. Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1975.

Rauf, Abdul Muhammad. IslamÇ Creed and Worship. Washington, DC: The Islamic Center, 1974.

Saleeb, Norman L. Geisler, and Abdul. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2002.

Shorrosh, Anis A. Islam Revealed:A Christian Arab’s View of Islam. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.

 

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