This week we want to broaden our study by comparing Christianity and Islam. When I lived in Nashville, I was able to carry on a series of Bible studies and Bible discussions with a thirty year old Muslim who was the son of an Imam from Nigeria, and, later, the Director of Education at the Nashville mosque named Yasser Arafat (no relation). An Imam is the prayer leader at a Muslim mosque and recognized Islamic spiritual leader.
I met with my new Muslim acquaintance several times and learned that although Muslims claim to believe the Bible, when they say “Bible” they refer only to the Old Testament and the Gospels. They believe Paul is the ringleader of what they consider the “errors (and corruptions) of Christianity.” Muslims claim that the problem with our Bible is that the Jews corrupted the Old Testament to shore up their beliefs, and that Christians likewise manipulated the New Testament text to promote Christianity. When I pressed him that surely all of God’s word would be preserved and available, he disagreed saying that the Qur’an has all man needed.
My friend Muhammad later said that Allah did preserve the Old Testament and the Gospels, but that it is very difficult to obtain a copy of this “genuine” Bible. Muhammad spoke with great admiration of what he called “the people of the book” who purportedly possess and live by the original message. I expressed great interest in meeting some of these mysterious individuals, but learned they are difficult to track down. There was never a good answer given for the abundance of accurate copies of the Qur’an and the scarcity of “accurate” copies of the Bible.
Muslims say there are true Christians who have the true text, but that it is very hard to find them anymore. I now realize they were likely referring to the Ebionites that were related to Muhammad. The Ebionites (“poor ones”) likely claimed to be Christians while attempting to reestablish Jewish law. They regarded Jesus as the Messiah, but not the Son of God. We want to take a closer look at Islam and draw some comparisons between Christianity and Islam. First, we have a song…
Whereas Jesus teaches the twelve (who became apostles) to call God, “Our Father,” (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2) Muslims say that such talk is blasphemy. While the New Testament teaches that we can know God and become close to God (James 4:8: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”), Islam teaches that God is unknowable and unapproachable. In contrast, the apostle Paul tells the crowd on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:23), “the one whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you…” Paul goes so far as to write that God will execute judgment on those who do not know God (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
Muslims most despise Christianity because Muslims worship one God (Allah) and maintain Christians worship three gods. Where do they get that? Well, Muslims equate Roman Catholicism with Christianity and are taught that we worship the “trinity of God, Jesus and Mary.” This misunderstanding is apparently rooted in the Roman Catholic’s teaching that Mary is the mother of God, Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate. Of course, the Scriptures do not teach that, but teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God. The Bible says in John 1:1, 14: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Nevertheless, Muslims claim that calling Jesus the Son of God insulted the holy nature of God. To Muslims, Deity is incompatible with the weakness and filthiness of human flesh.
Where the gospels present Jesus’ teaching that God will send another Comforter (John 16:7),
Muslims say this is actually a prophecy of Muhammad coming instead of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing to support this connection in any New Testament manuscript.
Another important difference between Islam and Christianity is the Qur’an teaching that Abraham offered up Ishmael—not Isaac—on the altar. Muslims commemorate this on Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) by sacrificing a sheep, camel, or goat. They give one third of the meat to friends and donate one third to the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes a willingness to give up things to follow Allah’s commands. Muslims visit friends and family and exchange gifts during this holy day. They observed Eid-al-Adha on September 23 and 24 this year (2015). These sacrifices are not offered to forgive sins.
While Jesus said, “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32) and Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage,” the Qur’an teaches that a Muslim can never rise above slaves.
At the age of six, boys in devout Muslim families begin to go with their father to pray at the mosque five times a day beginning at 3:30 a.m. These prayers include scripted words and physical movements. This activity certainly sounds like that of a slave. Consider the following regulations:
First of all, anyone who has become impure (by using the bathroom, touching a woman or an animal, et cetera) must cleanse himself before prayers. Before he washes he says, “I put my face to the true creator and I begin my washing.”
• He washes his right hand and then left hand three times.
• He rinses his mouth with water – rubbing his teeth with his right finger three times.
• He cleanses his nose with water three times.
• He washes his face from the hairline, around the ear and under the chin three times.
• He washes his arms from the wrist to the elbow, right hand first, three times.
• He washes his hair by dipping his hand in water and smoothing it over his hair three times.
• He washes his ears with a wet finger in a specific direction and with a particular motion.
• He washes his feet up to his ankles; right foot first, three times.
Because this is how Muhammad prayed, so must all Muslims. Muslims must be grateful to Muhammad that they only have to pray five times a day. Initially, they claim, Allah demanded fifty prayers a day until Muhammad negotiated with him until he got it down to five. When Muslims pray, they line up in straight rows facing Mecca and the prayer leader cups his hands behind his ears and proclaims, “Allah is great.” Everyone repeats these words. Then, in unison, they cross their hands over their stomachs, right hand on top and recite the first chapter of the Qur’an in Arabic. Then everyone is given a few seconds to quote additional verses of their choosing. Next, the leader cups his hands behind his ears and calls out again, “Allah is great.” The assembly echoes his words. Again in unison, they bow at the waist with hands on their knees and respond, “I praise my great Lord. This completes the first half of the first unit of prayer called a raka’ah. At 4 a.m. Muslims must pray two raka’ah’s; at noon, they must pray four raka’ah’s; at 3 p.m., four raka’ah’s; three raka’ah’s at 5 p.m. and four raka’ah’s at 8:30 p.m.
Muhammad taught that prayers at the mosque were twenty-seven times better than private prayers.
Of course, Jesus taught differently. He taught in Matthew 6:5-7, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Jesus taught His disciples to pray as children to a loving Father, whereas Muhammad taught men to pray as slaves to avoid Allah’s wrath. What a vast difference!
Christianity and Islam can be contrasted in many areas, but, as you may have anticipated from our message last week, the most startling difference between Christianity and Islam is their attitude toward women. One, obviously, emanates from God—the other from man.
• Muhammad claimed to visit hell and found that there were more women there than men.
• Muhammad said, “If there is evil omen in anything, it is in the house, the woman and the horse.”
• Muhammad said, “Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman.” Aisha, the nine year old Muhammad married, later complained, “You have made us dogs.”
• Muhammad said, “Women are ungrateful to their husbands…(and) deficient in intelligence and religion…the witness of two women is equal to that of one man.”
• Islam teaches women could be taken as spoils of war.
• Muhammad had twelve wives and twenty-three slave women. The Qur’an allows a man to have up to four wives, if he can support them financially.
• The Qur’an teaches that husbands could beat their wives lightly to get them in line.
• A divorce was final, if a man simply said three times, “I divorce you,” but a woman could not initiate a divorce at all.
Meanwhile, in the gospels we learn Mary and Martha were two of Jesus closest friends. A number of women, in fact, traveled with him from place to place according to Luke 8:1-3. These women, we find in Matthew 27:55-56, were loyal to Jesus, following him all the way to the cross.
Women were witnesses after his resurrection and reported it to the twelve. Jesus praised a number of women for their great faith (Matthew15:28), generosity (Luke 21) and love (Luke 7:36-50). In John 4 and John 8, Jesus offered hope and forgiveness to women who had lost their way. Jesus taught in Matthew 19 that a man could only divorce his wife in the case of unfaithfulness. The Holy Spirit writes in Galatians 3:28, “There…is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The New Testament shows genuine respect for women.
The Qur’an’s most creative departure from the truth concerns the crucifixion. They contend that
Judas Iscariot led the authorities to Gethsemane to seize Jesus, but that God took Jesus up to heaven. Meanwhile as the authorities searched for Jesus, Judas disappeared behind a tree. Then God miraculously gave Judas the appearance of Jesus, so when Judas reappeared, Jesus’ would-be captors, seized Judas, thinking they had Jesus. So, Muslims explain, the crucifixion and the cruelties surrounding it were actually the meting out of a well-deserved punishment on Judas. Of course, a major flaw in this story is that it was Judas himself who went to the garden to positively identify Jesus. The Muslim explanation misses this point altogether.
Perhaps the greatest disparity between Christianity and Islam exists in the place of love in the teaching of the Bible and the Qur’an. When I asked my friend Mohammad what his favorite scripture on love in the Qur’an, he wanted instead to talk about the mercy of God. Christianity extols both the love and the mercy of God. It was surprising to learn that the Qur’an provides ninety-nine names for God, but the one conspicuously absent is the one considered most significant in the New Testament. John writes in 1 John 4:8, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” In 1 John alone (a book of only three or four pages), the word “love” is found thirty-five times and over two hundred twenty times in the New Testament. Meanwhile, the entire Qur’an only speaks of God’s love for man twenty times. The spirit of these teachings is distinct from what you find in the New Testament.
Five times the Qur’an teaches God loves those who do good. Two times the Qur’an says God loves the pure. Seven times the Qur’an says God loves the righteous or just. One verse each in the Qur’an expresses God’s love for Moses, those who trust Him, those who are patient, those who love him and follow the prophet, those who will love him and, of course, those who fight in battle for Him.
So, how should Christians interact with Muslims? Burning copies of the Qur’an will not bring the desired effect. Consider some of the following suggestions:
Become familiar with the basics of Islam (as we have begun to do today) to demonstrate openness to investigating the merits of Islam. The devotion of Muslims to their faith is impressive as can be seen with their steadfast adherence to multiple daily prayers, their devotion to religious fasting, their abstaining from alcohol, their commitment to charitable giving, their zeal that leads them to die for their faith and their dedication to what they consider is the word of God. Thousands of Muslims are admitted to the most prestigious Muslim university, Al-Azhar University in Egypt every year. More impressive is that to be admitted one must be able to recite the entire Qur’an from memory.
It is also beneficial to recognize common ground between Christianity and Islam. Islam is opposed to polytheism, believes in a final judgment, and believes in many of the prophets recorded in the Bible. They look to Abraham as a great father of the faithful. Although they deny Jesus is the Son of God, they do believe in Jesus as a sinless Messiah and great miracle worker.
When discussing religion with a Muslim, be sure to practice the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12.
The most effective way to win them over or at least gain a listener is to disarm them with respect and kindness. The Holy Spirit puts it this way in 1 Peter 3:15, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” This last phrase, “with meekness and fear” has also been translated “with gentleness and respect.” (NIV) Ask questions respectfully to learn where they are coming from and to clear up possible misunderstandings of their beliefs.
Demonstrate a willingness to listen. Christians are taught in James 1:19 to be “slow to speak” and “swift to hear.” The importance of this truth is further highlighted in 2 Timothy 2:24-26. Interestingly, even though Jesus was one hundred percent right and the Samaritan woman at the well was in error and comparatively ignorant, Jesus allowed her (John 4) to speak the same amount of words that he spoke. By allowing another to talk, we earn the right to be heard also.
Ask what the greatest blessing they receive from being a Muslim and then tell them about the blessing of forgiveness of sins and the confidence of salvation. The Bible teaches in 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…” This confidence and assurance is one of the great blessings of Christianity that Islam fails to deliver. Muslims never know if they will go to heaven until judgment.
Ask if the Qur’an teaches love. Then ask them to share their three favorite passages on love from the Qur’an. Next, share three scriptures on love that are meaningful to you. This will intrigue them, and create the greatest likelihood of stimulating openness in the future.
Confirm their belief in the Bible. When they tell you the Jews corrupted the Old Testament and Christians corrupted the New Testament to promote their teachings, ask them to read aloud prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament. I prefer Isaiah 53 because there are so many consecutive prophecies that point clearly to Jesus. Then, ask if they know who Isaiah is speaking about. If they do not see or admit that they are prophecies about Jesus, explain it to them. Remind them that this is the Jewish Bible. Then ask, “If Jews were going to corrupt Old Testament, wouldn’t they have removed such lengthy, lucid prophecies about Jesus?” Most likely they will have never seen these and will be struck by them.
Then, ask if the Old Testament has any prophecies of Muhammad as detailed and striking as the ones you shared about Jesus from David and Isaiah. They cannot help but see how full the Bible is of prophecies about Jesus and how none can be found of Muhammad.
Finally, avoid anger and frustration if you cannot answer one of their arguments. Write it down and research it further.