Since the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11, much has been written and discussed about the nature of Islam and whether it is truly a religion of peace. But in the two and a half years that have passed since that terrible day, how much have we learned about what Islam teaches and how those beliefs compare to our own?
Christianity and Islam have many things in common. Both religions are monotheistic. Both believe that God is just, sovereign, and forgiving. Both hold Jesus in very high esteem and refer to him as Christ. Many American Christians even believe that we worship the same God.
The sacred book of Islam, the Qur'an, also teaches that we worship the same God and that it was He who imparted his truth to Moses. Sura 5:44 says, "It was We [Allah] who revealed the Law to Moses: therein was guidance and light." It goes on to say in verse 46, "And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light."
However, this is actually somewhat of a problem for Islam. Muhammad was not very well educated and did not have firsthand knowledge of the Jewish or Christian Scriptures. Early on, he believed that what he had written in the Qur'an was compatible with Scripture and that the god he served was the God of the Jews and Christians.
Sura 10:94 records Allah instructing Muhammad, "If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee."
Later, when Muslims began to come into contact with Christians and Jews they realized that the Old and New Testaments did not agree with the Qur'an. In fact they disagreed on many key points. Since they believed that God's word could not be changed they had to find an explanation for this problem. The solution? The Jews and Christians must have corrupted God's revelation.
Islam teaches that Allah sent prophets to reveal his truth to all peoples to help them understand the truth and to serve him. Since the Jews and Christians corrupted Allah's teachings and others fell into worshiping many gods, Muslims believe the only uncorrupted, true revelation of God remaining is that of the Qur'an.
It is important to understand that the differences between Christianity and Islam are significant. While Muslims esteem Christ as a great prophet they strongly deny His deity. Consider the passage from Sura 112 that is recited in prayer every day by Muslims: "Say He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him."
To believe that Jesus is the Son of God is blasphemy to a Muslim. Sura 5:72 says, "They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Christ the son of Mary.' But said Christ: "O children of Israel ! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.'" Just a few verses later in verse 75 it says, "Christ, the son of Mary, was no more than a Messenger."
Abdullah Yusuf Ali, a noted Muslim scholar, put it this way, "Begetting a son is a physical act depending on the needs of men's animal nature. Allah Most High is independent of all needs, and it is derogatory to Him to attribute such an act to Him."
Christians cherish the belief that God sent His only Son to bear the price of our sins. For the Muslim it is blasphemy to believe that Allah would allow one of his prophets to perish in such a way and they deny that Christ was crucified.
No Sin Nature
Muslims see no need for a savior and look at sin and the sin nature differently than Christians. Muslims believe in a creation story similar to the one of the Bible. However, in the Islamic version, Adam and Eve were created in a state of righteousness in the garden, sinned, and were forgiven. There was no sin left to pass on to descendants as a sin nature.
In fact, Islam teaches that Adam, after his fall and forgiveness, became the first prophet. Unlike the Bible, Islamic theology believes that prophets are kept from fundamental sins. Adam, as a prophet, could not have had a sin nature to pass on.
Without a sin nature, there is no need for a savior, no need for redemption. All people are born innocent and remain so until they themselves sin. At that point all they need is the grace of Allah to forgive their sins which come simply as a result of personal weakness, not from a sinful nature.
For the Muslim salvation is simply a matter of works to earn his way into paradise. Sura 23:102-103 paints an image of our lives being weighed in a scale on judgment day, "Then those whose balance is heavy " they will attain salvation: but those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in hell will they abide." Because we cannot see the totality of our own good and evil, salvation for the Muslim is never assured. Only on judgment day will the balance be known.
Along with the acceptance of this belief comes a loss of justice. For the Muslim all that is needed to do away with any sin is enough good deeds to balance the scales. So, as long as they put in enough hours of community service, even murder or rape can be simply overlooked.
To summarize these beliefs, Islam teaches that Jesus was a great prophet who was often misquoted and misunderstood by His disciples. He is not God and His death is not necessary for the forgiveness of our sins. All that is necessary is to do more good in this life than evil and we will be allowed into paradise in the next life.
That said, it seems that the belief system of a large percentage of American Christians is closer to the teachings of Islam than the teaching of the Bible.