We live in a time where Islam and Christianity appear to be in a holy war. As a result, many within Christianity and Islam seem to have launched a modern-day, crusade, a slander-to-vanquish battle where the mass media appears to have taken over the sword as weapon of choice.
In an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, the Rev. jerry Falwell called the prophet Muhammad a “terrorist” and “a man of war.” Following these comments, televangelist Pat Robertson called the prophet Muhammad a “robber and a brigand” on his network and Rev. Franklin Graham denounced Islam as a “very evil and wicked religion.”
On the other side, underground cassette tapes of vitriolic Friday sermons delivered by mullahs across the Muslim world are available from Cairo to Quetta. And from post-9/11 hideouts, al Qaeda continues to release taped messages promising to fight against the “infidels.”
“They have taken their rabbis and their monks for gods beside Allah, and also the Messiah son on Mary,” said Osama bin Laden in an audiotape released last November. He was expanding on an earlier warning issued before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the West had “divided the world into two religions – one of faith and another of infidelity, from which we hope God will protect us.”
This holy war has divided these religions; thus, generating a lot of anger and fear around religious groups, in addition to widespread misinformation about the beliefs of both. In these contentious times of conflict between the world’s great religions, many Christians believe that Muslims hold the Christian faith in derision if not outright hostility. Yet, this isn’t particularly the case. Contrary to the belief of many, Islam and Christianity actually have a great deal in common, including some of the same prophets. Islam, for example, believes that Jesus is the messenger of God and that He was born to the Virgin Mary – beliefs that are similar to Christian doctrine.
Yes, there are important differences between the faiths, but for Christians first learning about Islam, or Muslims being introduced to Christianity, there is often a good deal of surprise at just how much the two important faiths share. One of the biggest clues to what Islam really believes about Christianity can be found by examining Islam’s holy book, the Qu’ran.
The Qur’an in Arabic, literally means “The Recitation.” The Qur’an is the central religious text of Islam – Every Muslim believes the Qur’an to be a revelation from Allah and not written by the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims believe that the words of Allah were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through Archangel Gabriel over a period of 23 years when Muhammad was 40 years old. In the Qur’an, Christians are often referred to as among the “People of the Book,” meaning the people who have received and believed in revelations from God’s prophets. The Qur’an contains both verses that highlight the commonalities between Christians and Muslims but also contains other verses that warn Christians against sliding towards polytheism due to their worship of Jesus Christ as God.
There are several different passages in the Qur’an that speak with respect to the commonalities that Muslims share with Christians. Those verses in the Qur’an include:
“Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians – whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve” (2:62, 5:69, and many other verses.”
“…and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say ‘We are Christians,’ because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (5:82).
“O you who believe! Be helpers of God – as Jesus the son of Mary said to the disciples. ‘Who will be my helpers in the work of God? Said the disciples, ‘We are God’s helpers!’ Then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, an a portion disbelieved. But we have power to those who believed, against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed” (61:14).
The Qur’an also has several passages that express concern for the Christian practice of worshipping Jesus Christ as God. It Is the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity that most disturbed Muslims. To Muslims, the worship of any historical figure as God Himself is a sacrilege. Those verses in the Qur’an include:
“If only they [Christians] had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course, but many of them follow a course that is evil” (5:66)
“Oh People of the Book! Commit to no excesses in your religion, nor say of God anything but the truth. Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was (no more than) a messenger of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him. So believe in God and His messengers. Say not, ‘Trinity.’ Desist! It will be better for you, for God is One God, Glory be to Him! (Far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is God as a Disposer of affairs.” (4:171).
While Christians and Jews agree that they, intellectually at least, worship the same God – the God of creation and of the Jewish Bible, many question if Muslims worship that same God. Many think they don’t. But people should understand that the Muslim practice of calling God “Allah” does not necessarily indicate, intellectually at least, that they worship a god other than the God of the Bible. For “allah” is the Arabic word for “God/god,” and the Qur’an constantly interchanges the words “Allah and God.” Many Christians don’t know that the name of God in the Hebrew Bible which is YHWH/YHVH can be written Yahweh or Yehvah – even though it appears nearly 7,000 times in the Hebrew Bible.
Even though Islam and Christianity have a lot in common, they remain divided. Christians and Muslims might do some good by focusing on their many commonalities than reinforcing their doctrinal differences. Maybe this can begin to bridge the gap, and help us move towards greater understanding and peace.