Understanding Islam Part 3: Agreements and Disagreements
In this blog series I am posting work done by researchers for another project I was working on a few years ago. My hope is to help provide some understanding of Islam for Christians that leads to further study and also a desire to lovingly befriend Muslims in their own community to enable further mutual understanding.
Agreements and Disagreements Between Islam and Christianity
Muslims view Christians as tritheists because of their belief in the Trinity: “In fact, the Qur’an itself declares in Surah 5:73 (see also 4:171) that Christians believe in three gods, and that this is blasphemy against Allah. Islam arose in the Christian era, when theologians and laity still hotly debated the great Trinitarian formulas. Some Christians were teaching heretical notions of the Trinity in Mecca, where Muhammad lived. One such heresy claimed something like this: God has a wife named Mary, with whom he had intercourse, resulting in Jesus.”i
Some try to downplay the distinctions between Muslim and Christian belief about Christ, but this is not wise nor charitable as both sides would agree that they disagree. “The conflict between Islam and Christianity is reflected in numerous disputes and apologetic writings on both sides. The tension between the two religions was enhanced by the fact that the Koran contains several references to the life of Jesus which, of course, are accepted by Muslims as absolute and indisputable truth as they constitute God’s own word, while they contradict Christian dogma on certain points.”ii
Put most simply, “The Koran acknowledges the virgin birth. Jesus is the Word which God placed into Mary. This, however, does not mean that he should be called ‘God’s Son.’ Rather, he is the last great prophet before Muhammad, a healer and a model of love, poverty, and humility, who never thought of claiming divine status. Mary—thus says Islamic tradition—is one of the four best women that ever lived on earth. In contrast to other children of Adam she was not touched by Satan.”iii
Jesus, on the Koran’s view, did miracles: “The Koran mentions only fragments from the life of Jesus. There, as in later traditions, scenes known from apocryphal writings are echoed, such as his capacity to grant life to clay birds by breathing upon them. This, incidentally, forms the basis for an image used thousands of times in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Urdu poetry: the breath or the kiss of the beloved is compared to the life-bestowing breath of Jesus: ‘Jesus-breathed’ means simply ‘healing, live-giving.’”iv
In the Koran Jesus is not the Son of God who dies on the cross for our sins: “…in the Koran, the crucifixion is not accepted: ‘They did not kill him and did not crucify him, rather one was made resembling him (Sura 4.157).’ Hence, the central importance of the Cross in Christian faith is never properly understood by a Muslim, even less so the need for redemption is acknowledged, because Islam does not know the concept of original sin. According to the teaching of the modern Ahmadiyya sect, Jesus wandered to Kashmir after someone else had been crucified in his place; his tomb is taken to be near Srinagar where he died at a great age. With this attitude the Ahmadiyya takes a position that is unacceptable for both Christians and Muslims.”vIn the Koran, Jesus is most certainly only a human prophet and not God. Jesus’s “speech and the divine pronouncements concerning him seem to echo the prophetic career of Muhammad himself, or else seem designed to show that he is ‘merely’ a servant of God—that is, a human being—who does not disdain that status. There is no Sermon on the Mount, no parables, no teachings on the law and the spirit, and of course no Passion. Instead, he has his faithful disciples who believe in him, he is humble and pious toward his mother, and he bears a message of God’s unity which confirms earlier prophetic messages. But the clear bulk of references to Jesus come in the form of divine pronouncements which speak about him or on his behalf, passages that remind Jesus himself or mankind in general that God is the ultimate creator and master of life and destiny of Jesus, as of all Creation. Here, then, is the true Jesus, ‘cleansed’ of the ‘perversions’ of his followers, a prophet totally obedient to his Maker and offered up as the true alternative to the Jesus of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Redemption.”vi
With all that Islam teaches about Jesus, their strict monotheism will not allow for the worship of any other God including Jesus Christ. As one Muslim writer put it, “Muslims respect and revere Jesus (peace be upon him). They consider him one of the greatest of God’s messengers to mankind. The Quran confirms his virgin birth, and a chapter of the Quran is entitled ‘Maryam’ (Mary; Quran, 3:45-47)…Jesus was born miraculously by the command of God, the same command that had brought Adam into being with neither a father nor a mother (Quran, 3:59). During his prophetic mission, Jesus performed many miracles (Quran, 3:49). Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified. It was the plan of Jesus’ enemies to crucify him, but God saved him and raised him up to Him. And the likeness of Jesus was put over another man. Jesus’ enemies took this man and crucified him, thinking that he was Jesus (Quran, 4:157). Neither Muhammad nor Jesus came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in one God, brought by earlier prophets, but rather to confirm and renew it.”vii
i. Timothy George, “Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?” Christianity Today 46, no. 2 (Feb. 2002).
ii. Annemarie Schimmel, Islam: An Introduction (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992), 73.
iii. Schimmel, Islam, 73.
iv. Schimmel, 74.
v. Schimmel, 74.
vi. Tarif Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 15.