Christians and Muslims live in the same world, but they don’t always understand each other. This article will look at some of the statements we often hear that aren’t accurate and deserve further study. We will also look at some of the misconceptions Christians have about Muslims.
In particular, we will look at some of the politically correct phrases that sound nice but are not true. We hear that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God” and that “Islam is a religion of peace.” If we are to understand Islam truly, we need to look carefully and work to understand the true nature of Christianity and Islam.
Worship the Same God?
One politically correct phrase that is often repeated is that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” It is understandable that people might say that. Both Islam and Christianity are monotheistic, even though a foundational difference is the Christian belief in the Trinity.
The most foundational doctrine in Islam is monotheism. This doctrine is encapsulated in the creed: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.” And not only is it a creed, but it is also a statement of faith that routinely heard from the lips of every faithful Muslim. It is the creed by which every Muslim is called to prayer five times a day.
Because of this strong emphasis on monotheism, Muslims reject the idea that God could be more than one person or that God could have a partner. The Qur’an teaches that Allah is one God and the same God for all people. Anyone who does not believe this is guilty of the sin of shirk. This is the quintessential sin in Islam. According to Islam, God cannot have a partner and cannot be joined together in the Godhead with other persons. Muslims, therefore, reject the Christian idea of the Trinity.
Muslims and Christians also differ in their understanding of the nature and character of God. The God of the Bible is knowable. Jesus came into the world that we might know God (John 17:3).
Islam teaches a very different view of God. Allah is distant, transcendent, and unknowable. He is separate from His creation. He is exalted and far removed from mankind. While we may know His will, we cannot know Him personally. In fact, there is very little written about the character of God. Allah is the creator and sustainer of the creation, but He is also unknowable. No person can ever personally know and have a relationship with Allah. Instead, humans are to be in total submission to the will of Allah.
Moreover, Allah does not personally enter into human history. Instead, he deals with the world through His word (the Qur’an), through His prophets (such as Muhammad), and through angels (such as Gabriel).
By contrast, Christianity teaches the fatherhood of God. Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer that we may address God as “our Father in heaven.” Christians can have a personal relationship with God through Christ and call God “Abba Father.”
When a Muslim hears a Christian talk about God in such intimate terms, he or she might object. At an emotional level, it may be appealing even attractive. But at a conscious level, such talk also sounds jarring and even blasphemous.
A Christian and Muslim perspective on God’s love is also very different. Christians begin with the belief that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). By contrast, Muslims grow up hearing about all the people Allah does not love. Sura 2:190 says, “For Allah loves not transgressors.” Sura 3:32 says, “Allah loves not the unbelievers.” Finally, we see that Sura 3:57 says, “For Allah loves not the evildoers.”
Muslim View of Jesus as the Son of God
As we have mentioned, the Qur’an refers to Jesus as “the Messiah” or “the Christ” (Sura 4:157) and also calls him “the word of God” (Sura 3:45). But Muslims reject the idea that God could have a Son.
Sura 19:35 says, “It is not befitting Allah that He should beget a son. Glory to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.” Muhammad believed that begetting a son would essentially make Allah a sexual animal, so he rejected the idea that God could have a Son. He believed that it would be beneath God’s dignity to have sexual relations. Sura 2:116 says, “They say, ‘Allah hath begotten a son’: Glory be to Him—Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him.”
Some Muslim commentators have said that the idea that God could have a Son in a relic of paganism. They even believe that it is blasphemous to say that, “Allah begets sons like a man or animal.”
This, however, is not what Christianity teaches. The Bible does not say that God had sex and begat a Son. While that might have been the belief expressed in the Greek myths where gods has sex with each other and with humans, it is not the teaching of Christianity.
Jesus Christ is called the Son of God. God is heard from heaven declaring, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5). Also, believers are called children of God: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).
Let’s compare Jesus and Muhammad. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the final prophet from Allah. He is referred to as the “seal of the prophets” (Sura 33:40). But while he is revered as the greatest of the prophets, most do not teach that he was sinless. The Qur’an does not make the claim that he was sinless, and there are passages that teach that Muhammad was a man like us (Sura 18:110) and that Allah told Muhammad that he must repent of his sins (Sura 40:55).
By contrast, Jesus claimed to be God and claimed to have the powers and authority that only God could possess. The New Testament provides eyewitness accounts or records of eyewitness accounts of the claims that Jesus made and the miracles he performed. Moreover, the New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ lived a perfect and sinless life (2 Cor. 5:21).
Muhammad also taught that Muslims are to fight in the cause of Allah (Sura 4:76) and fight against the unbelievers (Sura 9:123). By contrast, Jesus taught that Christians are to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44) and turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39).
The life of Muhammad is different from many of the other founders of religion. Moreover, the life of Muhammad and the life of Jesus Christ are very different.
Muslim View of The Trinity
Islam was founded in order to return all religions to a true worship of the one true God. Muslims, therefore, reject any religion that does not rest upon the belief in monotheism. The doctrine of the trinity sounds to Muslims as a corruption of the belief in monotheism. In fact, it sounds like a compromise of the unity and oneness of God.
Two key verses in the Qur’an refer to the doctrine of the trinity. Sura 4:171 says, “O people of the book! Commit no excesses in your religions: nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His World, which He bestowed on Mary.” The verse continues, “Say not ‘Trinity’: desist: it will be better for you; for Allah is One God: glory be to Him.”
Another passage is Sura 5:73: “They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity’ for there is no God except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily, a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.”
Later in that chapter (Sura 5:116-117) there is a conversation that supposedly takes place between Jesus and God on judgment day: “And behold! Allah will say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, “Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?” He will say, ‘Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine . . . . Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say, to wit, “Worship Allah – my Lord and your Lord.”
The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons make up the one true God. These three persons are of the same substance, equal in power and glory.
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The Bible clearly states that there is only one God. Deuteronomy 6:4 states, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” Isaiah 44:6 states, “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides me.” Clearly, these verses reveal that there is only one God. Yet, there are three separate persons in the Bible who are called God and have the characteristics only God can have.
Throughout scripture, the Father is called God. The Son is also called God (John 20:28, Matthew 1:23, Titus 2:13). The Son is worshipped, has authority over areas only God has authority over. The Son shares in the attributes only God can have. The Holy Spirit is also called God (Matthew 28:19, Acts 5:3-4, Romans 8). All three are equal in nature yet there is an economy among the persons of the Trinity.
We also can see that the disciples referred to Jesus as God. In John 20:28 Thomas, after seeing the resurrected Lord, proclaims to Jesus, “My Lord and My God.” We see, therefore, that Thomas calls Jesus God. And when John wrote his gospel, he begins by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
A Religion of Peace?
One politically correct phrase that is often repeated is that “Islam is a religion of peace.” Certainly, most the Muslims we meet want to live in peace and make good citizens. But is it true that all of Islam has been peaceful? To answer that question, it is important to return to our discussion of the word “jihad.”
Although some Muslims understand jihad to be merely intellectual and philosophical, the usual translation of jihad involves a holy war. That has been the traditional interpretation since the time of Muhammad.
Jihad was to be waged on the battlefield. Sura 47:4 says, “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.” Sura 9:5 says, “Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleager them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.”
Consider some of these other passages concerning jihad. Faithful Muslims wage jihad against unbelievers: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you . . . . and slay them wherever you catch them . . . . and fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah” (Sura 2:190-193).
Here are two other similar passages that talk about fighting unbelievers. “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for what He had no authority: their abode will be the Fire: And evil is the home of the wrong-doers” (Sura 3:151). Also, “O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird your about, and let them find firmness in you; and know that Allah is with those who fear Him” (Sura 9:123).
Muslims are also to wage jihad not only against unbelievers but against those who have strayed from the faith:
- Sura 4:89 – “They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): so take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah. . . . But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them.”
- Sura 9:73 – “Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: and evil fate.”
The Qur’an also teaches that engaging in jihad is good for a Muslim: “Fighting is prescribed upon you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth and ye know not” (Sura 2:216). The Qur’an (4:95) also exalts “those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and persons” above “those who sit and receive no hurt.”
Another way to understand the term “jihad” is to look at the historical context. After Muhammad’s success in the Battle of Badr, he set forth various principles of warfare. For example, according to Sura 9:29, jihad is a religious duty. Muhammad taught (in Sura 3:157-158, 195; 9:111) that martyrdom in jihad is the highest good and guarantees salvation. Sura 9:5 says that Muslims engaged in jihad should not show tolerance toward unbelievers. And acts of terrorism are justified in Sura 8:2.
Muhammad also promised that they would be victorious in jihad even when they were outnumbered. “Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred (steadfast) they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are a folk without intelligence” (Sura 8:65).
Some of the violence commanded in the Qur’an is actually quite gruesome:
- Sura 5:33 – “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a punishment is theirs in the hereafter.”
- Sura 8:12-13 – “Smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them. This because they contend against Allah and His Messenger, Allah is strict in punishment.”
The Qur’an and Murder
Muslims often will quote a passage in the Qur’an to show that it prohibits murder. It says, “Whosoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind” (Sura 5:32).
This passage is not really a prohibition against murder, for two reasons. First, the passage is addressed to the “Children of Israel” in a particular historical context. It is not addressed to Muslims. Actually, it was a warning to the Jews not to engage in warfare against Muhammad.
Second, it has an important proviso: if there is corruption in the earth. This is sometimes translated as “making mischief in the land.” While this would certainly include making war against the Muslims, it could also include resisting the Muslim advance into the land. The penalty for making mischief in the land was the following: “execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land.”
Violence in the Bible and the Qur’an
Whenever verses of the sword from the Qur’an are quoted, usually someone will quickly point out that the Old Testament calls for violence. But are these two books morally equivalent? Let’s look at some of these passages and see.
The Qur’an calls for jihad against the unbelievers (or infidels). Sura 9:5 says, “Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleager them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.”
Sura 9:29 says, “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Prophet, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizyah [per capita tax imposed on non-Muslim adult males] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Sura 47:4-7 says, “When you meet unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds; then set them free, either by grace or ransom, till the war lays down its loads…And those who are slain in the way of God, He will not send their works astray. He will guide them, and dispose their minds aright, and He will admit them to Paradise, that He has made known to them.”
In the Old Testament, there sometimes was a call for military action against specific groups. Deuteronomy 7:1-2 says, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.”
1 Samuel 15:2-3 says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
While there are some similarities, notice the difference. In the Old Testament, there was a direct and specific command to fight against a particular group of people. These passages do not apply to anyone who is not a Hittite, Girgashite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, Jebusite, or Amalekite. These commands given during the Old Testament theocracy apply only to those people at that time.
The passages are also quite specific. In 1 Samuel 15, the military action is to be taken only against the Amalekites. Notice that in verse 6 that Saul says to the Kenites, “Go, depart, go down from among the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you with them.” So specific is the command that he sends the Kenites away so they might not be hurt by any collateral damage.
While the passages in the Old Testament apply specifically to a particular group of people, the passages in the Qur’an apply to all unbelievers at all times. Notice that there is no time limit on these universally binding commands to all Muslims at all times.
No Christian leader is calling for a Holy War against infidels. But many Muslim leaders cite the Qur’an for that very action. Osama bin Laden, for example, quoted many of these verses of the sword just cited within his various fatwas.
Contrast this with the New Testament which calls for believers to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44) and turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). Christians are called to love (not hate) their enemies, to pray for them, and to not respond with a violent jihad with those with whom they disagree.
Muslim View of the Christian World
The average Muslim in other parts of the world often has a great misunderstanding of Western Christianity. Often their own experience with the U.S. and the rest of the world comes from our cultural export: the media. What they know about us is in our movies, music, and television programs. Thus, they perceive America and the rest of the Western world as full of sex and violence. Since they believe America is a Christian nation, they assume that everything that comes from our country (and the rest of the West) illustrates Christian attitudes and behavior. So they often equate Christianity with promiscuous sex, rampant drug use, violence and social strife.
When you talk with a Muslim, you should clarify that what they frequently see of the West does not necessarily align with biblical Christianity. Christians are equally concerned about the sex, pornography, violence, and profanity in the media and even in daily life. Help him or her to understand your moral concerns about these very same issues.
Why It Is Hard for Muslims to Become Christians
One of the reasons it is hard for Muslims to come to Christ was just mentioned. They are often repulsed by the Western world and equate Western decadence with Christianity. They reason that if that is what Christian is, then they don’t want any part of it. It is important to clear up many of the misconceptions Muslims may have about Christianity.
Another reason it is hard for Muslims to become Christian is cultural. It has been said the Islam is 10 percent theological and 90 percent cultural. To reject Islam is to reject one’s family and culture. The average Muslim desires (as we all do) to be part of a larger cultural group in order to feel secure and be affirmed.
The Muslim culture also reinforces these beliefs and provides a safe haven in a world of threats and confusion. When a Muslim hears the claims of Christ, he or she may be drawn to the truth but refuse to make a commitment because of the heavy cost of that commitment. Leaving Islam can mean the loss of family, the loss of community, even the loss of life.
A Muslim needs to be able to find a safe Christian community to join after their conversion. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, such communities do not exist.
Muslims accept that the Qur’an teaches them all they need to know about Jesus Christ. They accept that He is the Messiah and the Christ. And they honor him as one of the greatest prophets. So they feel they already believe everything that needs to be believed about Him. So they feel uncomfortable when Christians tell them that they need to believe in Jesus Christ. After all, they already believe in Him and already honor Him.
While Muslims may know that the Qur’an gives titles to Jesus such as “Messiah” and the “Word of God,” they have no context for understanding what those titles mean. You should explain what these titles meant in the Old Testament and how they found their fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.
Show them from the Qur’an what it really says about Jesus. For example, Sura 3:42-55 teaches that: (1) Mary was chosen by God, (2) Jesus was born of a virgin, (3) Jesus is the Messiah, (4) Jesus has power over death, and (5) Jesus knows the way to heaven. These verses ascribe power and position to Jesus that Muhammad did not ascribe to himself.
Many Muslims are not aware that the following assertions appear in the Qur’an:
- If you are in doubt about the truth, ask those who read the Scripture that came before you (Sura 10:94).
- To be a proper Muslim, one must read the Old and New Testament, known as the Before Books (Sura 4:136).
- Those who observe the teaching of the Torah and the Gospels will go to heaven Koran (Sura 5:65-66).
- Mohammed states he is not the greatest prophet, he does not know what will happen to his followers (after death) and he is only a Warner (Sura 46:9).
These passages are great conversation-starters about the Bible, Jesus, and salvation. They give Muslims permission to read the Bible and to learn spiritual truth from Christians.
Finally, make sure you talk about the love of God. As we have mentioned, Muslims believe that Allah is distant and unknowable. Christianity offers them the possibility of knowing God personally. This is attractive to Muslims.
A seminary conducted a survey of six hundred former Muslims who had become Christians. One most significant factors involved in the conversions of these former Muslims was the emphasis on the love of God and the intimacy that believers can have with God as their heavenly Father. This was an important factor in drawing these former Muslims to Christ, so make sure you talk about the love of God.
 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation, and Commentary (Brentwood, MD: Amana Corporation, 1989), 49.
 R.C. Sproul and Abdul Saleeb, The Dark Side of Islam (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 33
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