Monday, February 14, 2011

Christianity & Islam: More Differences & Similarities...

“Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:11-13)

This past week in worship we focused on the religion of Islam during our series "Christianity and World Religions" in an attempt to better understand our Muslim cousins so we can dialogue and share faith with them. During the sermon, time only permitted me to share one point of difference (#1: the nature of salvation and how we achieve it) and one point of commonality (#1: their commitment to prayer). However, here is a summary of several more such issues for your own consideration and further discussion (Read more detail about each of these in Endnote #22 and #25 in the sermon found here).


(#2) God’s relationship to humans – In Islam, Allah is a personal being (as in Christianity) who is understood and related to mainly as a transcendent “Sovereign Lord.” We Christians believe this, as well. But we also add that God is “immanent” – Jesus invites us to relate to Him intimately as our “Abba/Father/Daddy.”

(#3) How God speaks to humanity – Muslims believe that God spoke definitely and directly through Muhammad in the words of the Qur’an. We Christians, on the other hand, believe that when God wanted to speak a final, definitive word, it didn’t come through a prophet. Instead, we say that God Himself “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). This is why the equivalent of the Qur’an in Christianity is not the Bible, but Jesus – for us, Jesus is God’s Word incarnate; for Muslims, God’s Word incarnate is the Qur’an itself.

(#4) The place and role of Jesus in faith – In Islam, Jesus is considered to be a great prophet of faith, but they deny that he was God’s son, that he died on a cross, or was resurrected. Of course, for Christians, these beliefs are at the core of our faith, as we believe these truths were affirmed and shared by eyewitnesses at the time of Jesus, rather than by a personal vision of one man (Muhammad) 500 years later.

ADDITIONAL SIMILARITIES (Please note that all of these -- plus commitment to prayer that was mentioned in my sermon – are mentioned in the Romans 12 scripture above):

(#2) Wholehearted submission to God – the Muslims that I know are deeply committed to following the will and ways of Allah in ways that often put us Christians to shame. In contrast to what often seems to be our tendency towards shallow, superficial faith, they are radically sold out to God. If more of us as Christians would capture that kind of wholehearted passion for God, it would transform the world with love.

(#3) The priority they place on generosity –Remember that Muslims are expected to give the zakat – 2.5% of their income each year to the needy, and most actually do that! What’s sad is that even though our Bible calls on us to give God at least a tithe (10%) of our income to God’s work, the latest data seems to show that we American Christians don’t even give as much as our Muslim friends – we only give a little more 2% . Perhaps we Christians can learn better generosity from their example.

I hope these insights will help you better understand your own faith and how it relates to that of our Muslim neighbors as we seek to find peace for our world through constructive dialogue. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!


  1. I am a Muslim. Thankyou for your effort in shedding light and diminshing ignorance.

    IMO, our different understanding of "salvation" may come from our starting premise about human nature---that is, Judeo-Islam believes humans are inherently good, Christianity, believes they are not(original sin)......and therefore, this premise changes how we look at God, human nature, and salvation.

    Everything you have mentioned about Islam is correct, however, I would like to add to the point about Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) being the "founder" of Islam----Muslims believe that Islam ("submission/surrender"--to God's will) is not a new religion, but one that was given to mankind from the beginning---from the time of Prophet Adam(pbuh),---therefore, Prophet Abraham (pbuh) was a "muslim" (as in, one who submits---to God), as were all other Prophets and their followers. Thus, Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) was simply bringing a "reminder" ---not "founding" a new religion. It is a subtle nuance, but it helps explain our understanding of Islam being a path/"way" (deen)for all mankind, for all time---past, present and future.

  2. Kat,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to my sermon and blog. I'm glad you feel that I have for the most part portrayed Islam accurately and fairly -- that was certainly my loving intention.

    I also appreciate your distinction about Muhammed merely "reminding" humanity of the path to God that was set forth at the beginning of Creation. After my visit to a local Masjid, I realized my notes were wrong and added some of your point verbally during my Sunday sermon (but have not yet changed this in my printed/online notes). So, thank you for your reminder of this distinction so everyone else can understand this, too.

    Similar to Islam, we Christians also view our faith as existing from the beginning of time, beginning with Adam and continuing through Abraham, with Jesus as the culmination (or "reminder") of God's desire for relationship with humanity (I suspect our Jewish friends believe something similar, as well).

    Again, thank you for your clarifying comments. Assalamu Aleikom ("Peace be with you").

  3. Thankyou for your greetings, and Walaikum salam, peace be upon you also.

    I am happy to hear Christianity has a similar view. Perhaps we should be called the "Adamic" religions instead of the "Abrahamic"?
    In light of this view, perhaps it may be interesting to reflect on our differences with God's love in mind? If our God is the same and he loves all mankind irrespective of time, it stands to reason that he would have given all mankind Guidance, yet we seem to have different understandings with regards to certain matters. The Quran has an intersting answer to this dilemma.....Surah 5 verse 48 (partial verse) "...To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people but (his plan) is to test you in what he has given you: so strive as in a race(competition) in all virtues. The Goal of you all is to God; It is he that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute." The test being talked about here is one of striving for patience, tolerance, compassion and mercy when confronted with diversity.
    Religious "Truth" is easily revealed in the transformative power of a belief system to inspire right conduct through right intentions and right actions.

    (By the way, the Quran discourages cutting up its verses to make a point as it distorts the meaning----therefore I would like to encourage you to look up the above mentioned verse within the context of the preceding and following verses----whenever you have the time)

  4. Thank you again for your thoughts. They are very helpful in thinking through our differences. I especially like your idea of the "Adamic" religions -- it truly does more accurately characterize our three faiths.

    Your other thoughts reminded me of one way I've often explained the differing ways that different religions get at "Truth", which is through the reality of human experience: two humans can experience the exact same event (such as a movie) and yet explain it to others in two very, very differing ways, making some wonder if we even saw the same movie! I believe it's often this way in our experience with God -- God speaks to us all, but we all also hear and interpret Him in ways that are filtered through our own imperfect humanity. The challenge is in not allowing our differing ways of talking about or explaining God get in the way of the oneness we share in Him. Thanks again!