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The Similarities and Differences between Islam and Christianity (part 1 of 2): The Same but Different

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Description: Islam and Christianity  are thought of as two monolithic religions.  This is an explanation of what Islam and Christianity believe about the Scriptures, the Prophets and the Trinity.

  • By Aisha Stacey (© 2017 IslamReligion.com)
  • Published on 15 May 2017
  • Last modified on 20 Jan 2020
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Similarities-and-Differences-between-Islam-and-Christianity--1.jpgAccording to the Pew Research Centre[1]  Islam is currently the second largest religion in the world after Christianity.  If the demographic trends continue Islam is expected to overtake Christianity before the end of the 21st century.  The state of the world today makes it easy to imagine two giant entities facing off against one another but that is simply not the case.  There are many similarities between Islam and Christianity.  In fact, it is easy to think that there are more similarities than differences. 

Both Islam and Christianity encourage their followers to dress and behave modestly, and both believe that being charitable and showing compassion are desirable qualities in a human being.  They both place emphasis on prayer and communication with God, both call on people to be kind and generous, and both counsel treating others the way you would expect to be treated.  The two religions expect their followers to be truthful, stay away from major sins and ask for forgiveness.  And both religions respect and love Jesus and expect him to return to earth as part of their end of days narratives. 

Members of both religions would have us believe that they are poles of apart but their histories begin in exactly the same place, in the Garden with Adam and Eve.  It is in the life of Prophet Abraham that their paths begin to diverge and as if to add emphasis to their mutual beginning Islam and Christianity along with Judaism are known collectively as the Abrahamic faiths.

The Prophets

According to the Quran, Abraham was known as the beloved servant of God; because of his deep devotion, God made many of his descendants Prophets to their own people.  The story of Prophet Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son is known in both Christianity and Islam.  In Islam, that son is Ishmael[2] and it was through his lineage that Islam was established through Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him.  In Christianity, the son in the sacrifice narrative is Isaac[3].  Through the line of Isaac come many Prophets including Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon and Jesus. 

One of Islam’s six pillars of faith requires that a Muslim believes in all of the Prophets.  To reject one is to reject them all.  Muslims believe that God sent many Prophets, one to every nation.  Some we know by name and others we do not.  Prophet Muhammad is known to have said that all the Prophets are brothers to one another.[4] Thus you will find that all the Prophets mentioned in the Bible are respected and acknowledged by Islam.   Many of them are mentioned by name in the Quran with detailed life stories.  Islam treats all Prophet with respect and rejects the stories in the Bible that ridicule and tarnish some of the Prophets.   

Christianity acknowledges that Prophet Muhammad existed but does not endow him with Prophethood.  Throughout Christian history he has been called a liar and a lunatic; some people even associated him with the devil.  On the other hand, Islam considers Prophet Muhammad to be a mercy from God to humankind.  As far as Jesus is concerned Christians and Muslims have many similar beliefs.  Both believe that his mother Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to him.  Both religions believe that Jesus was the Messiah sent to the people of Israel and both believe that he performed miracles.  Islam however says that such miracles were performed by the will and permission of God.   Islam calls Prophet Jesus the slave and messenger of God and he is held in great esteem as one man in a long line of Prophets and Messengers all calling the people to worship One God.  Islam rejects completely the notion that Jesus is God or is part of the Trinity.

The Trinity

The Trinity is the core belief of Christianity that says that there is One God who has three manifestations, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  God has a son called Jesus who is also God and it is through Jesus that a person can reach the Father.  The Holy Spirit, also God, is the divine force, that mysterious force responsible for faith.  The Trinity is sometimes depicted as the wings of a dove or tongues of fire.   It is a controversial doctrine that came about as an attempt to reconcile the teaching of the Bible and the early Christian church.  Disputes over the nature of Jesus lead to the Roman emperor Constantine convening the Council of Nicaea in CE 325.  And it was the doctrine of the Trinity that caused the split between the eastern and western churches.  Even today many people are unable to understand or explain the doctrine that they profess. 

Believing themselves to be monotheistic is something common to both Islam and Christianity.  Monotheism is a word derived from the Greek words ‘monos’ meaning only and ‘theos’ meaning god.   It is used to define a Supreme Being who is all-powerful, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the One responsible for life and death.  Muslims however believe that they practice pure monotheism unadulterated by concepts such as the Trinity.  The core belief of Islam is that there is no god worthy of worship but God; it is a simple concept in which worship is directed to God Alone. 

The Scriptures

Muslims derive their understanding of the nature of God from the Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad.  The Quran explains that all the divine books of Christianity, the Old Testament, including the book of Psalms, and the New Testament containing the Gospels of Jesus were revealed by God.  Therefore, Muslims believe in the Bible when it does not differ from the Quran.  Muslims believe only what has been confirmed in the Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad because Islam says that much of the original text of both the Old and New testaments has been lost, altered, distorted or forgotten.

Muslims believe the Quran to be the last revealed text and the exact words of God brought down to Prophet Muhammad through the agency of Angel Gabriel.  Christianity however believes that the Bible was inspired by God and written by a number of different authors.   



Footnotes:

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/27/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/

[2] Quran 37:101 - 103

[3] Genesis 22

[4] Saheeh Al-Bukhari

 

 

The Similarities and Differences between Islam and Christianity (part 2 of 2): Similar but very different

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Description: Islam and Christianity have very different things to say about original sin, salvation and the last days of Jesus.

  • By Aisha Stacey (© 2017 IslamReligion.com)
  • Published on 22 May 2017
  • Last modified on 22 May 2017
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Similarities-and-Differences-between-Islam-and-Christianity-2.jpgMuslims and Christians have very much in common; from their views on kindness and compassion to their end of days narratives of Jesus playing an essential during that time.  Far from being locked in a clash of civilizations, even a small amount of knowledge reveals astonishing similarities.  However, matters of doctrine and belief can at times be startlingly different.  Despite this, there is common ground and several starting points for dialogue and discussion.

Original Sin

The story of Adam and Eve exists in both Christianity and Islam.  On the surface the stories seem to be the same.  Adam is the first human being, Eve is created from his rib, and they lived tranquilly in Paradise.  Satan is with them in Paradise; he misguides or tempts them into eating fruit from the forbidden tree.   But apart from the bare outlines, the stories differ greatly.   The Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, tell us that Satan did not come to Adam and Eve in the form of a serpent, nor did he trick them into eating the forbidden fruit.  Satan misguided and deceived them, and they made a grave error of judgment.  This was not the fault of Eve alone rather Adam and Eve share the burden of the mistake equally.

At no point in the Quranic story are we told that Eve was the weaker of the two or that she was responsible for the temptation of Adam.  They made the decision together, and sometime later they realized their grave mistake, felt remorseful and begged for God’s forgiveness.  God forgave both of them.  In light of this, we can see that Islam has no concept called original sin.  The descendants of Adam are not punished for their ancestor’s actions.   God says in the Quran that no one is responsible for another person’s decisions.  "… no bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden..." (Quran 35:18) Islam has no concept that a human being could be born sinful.  Rather, people are born in a state of purity and naturally inclined to worship God.  Their slates are clean; there is nothing for them to be forgiven for or to repent for. 

One the other hand, the Christian doctrine of original sin teaches that humankind is born already tainted by the sins of Adam and Eve.  Jesus, they say, was born and did die in order to atone for the sins of humankind.  If you believe that Jesus’ death expiated your sins, then the door to salvation is opened to you.  Islam rejects this completely.  Islam teaches that Prophet Jesus was sent to the Israelites to affirm the message of all the Prophets before him; that God is One, with no partners, associates, or offspring, therefore, there is nothing worthy of worship except Him. 

Salvation

Because Islam believes that every human being is born free from sin, to remain in this state a person needs only to follow God’s commandments, and try to live a virtuous life.  If one falls into sin but then feels repentant, he or she should seek God’s forgiveness.  Forgiveness should be sought directly from God; there are no intermediaries.   Quran and Prophet Muhammad tell us that God’s forgiveness is easily attainable.  In the authentic traditions we find that Prophet Muhammad said, "God spreads out His hand at night to accept the repentance of the one who sinned during the day, and He spreads out His hand by day to accept the repentance of the one who sinned during the night, (and that will continue) until the sun rises from the west.  "[1]

Say, ‘O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)!  Despair not of the Mercy of God, indeed God forgives all sins.   Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.’ (Quran 39:53)

Sincere repentance assures forgiveness, and salvation is attained through submission to the will of God.  The human being will only find true contentment and security when he is able to have hope in God’s mercy and forgiveness whilst fearing the consequences that come from displeasing Him.  In Islam staying connected to God is the key to salvation, and Quran tells us that sincere belief combined with good deeds and behavior will result in eternal life in Paradise.

In Christianity however, salvation is another thing altogether.  It is the death of Jesus Christ that results in salvation.  Particularly in Roman Catholic theology, it is the death of the innocent Jesus, the perfect blood sacrifice, which results in salvation.  His death takes away the sins of all people who accept Jesus as the son of God and believe in his resurrection.  Some Christian denominations add that good works and the development of good moral characteristics aids in a person’s salvation.  Still others require that a person is baptized.

The Crucifixion and Jesus’ Return

Whilst Islam and Christianity agree that a crucifixion did take place, they disagree on whether or not Jesus himself was crucified and died.  The idea of Jesus dying on the cross is central to the Christian belief, but it is rejected by Islam.  The Islamic belief about Jesus’ crucifixion and death is clear.   Islam teaches us that Jesus did not die to atone for humankind’s sins.   There was a plot to crucify him, but it did not succeed. God in his infinite mercy saved Jesus from this humiliation by putting his resemblance on somebody else and elevating him alive, body and soul, to heaven.   The Quran is silent about the exact details of just who this person was, but we know and believe with certainty that it was not Prophet Jesus.

Christianity and Islam also agree that Jesus will return to earth.  Islam explains that in the days before the Day of Judgement, Jesus will return to this world and teach others to believe in the Oneness of God.  He will be a just ruler, break the crosses, slay the antichrist, then all the People of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) will enter into Islam.

In Christianity Jesus’ return is most often referred to as the Second Coming.  There are many differences amongst the Christian denominations, however, most teach that Jesus will return to judge between the living and the dead, (hold the final judgment) and set up the Kingdom of God.  Many believe that he will reign on earth for a thousand years, some saying that Jesus’ reign will begin after he defeats the antichrist. 



Footnotes:

[1] Saheeh Muslim

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