Tuesday, October 22, 2019
In an age of religious pluralism, it is popular to say that all religions teach basically the same thing. This sounds tolerant and appeals to a desire to be inclusive, but the question is whether this cliché is true. As Steve Turner satirically quipped, “We believe that religions are basically the same, they only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.”1 The next stop on our Trip Around the Worldviews will require investigation of this statement, as we explore a religion and worldview that is often claimed to overlap with Christianity.
In the interfaith movement, it is popular to assert that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Recently, Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayebb of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University released a joint declaration “in the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity.”2 In 1965, the Second Vatican Council affirmed, “The church also regards with esteem the Muslims. They adore the one God living and subsisting in himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth.” While the interfaith movement promotes important values such as compassion, tolerance, and cooperation, the question remains whether different religions are truly fundamentally equivalent. If there are fundamental differences, how do those differences affect the worldview of a particular religion’s followers? While Islam and Christianity may have more in common with each other than the first two worldviews in this series (secularism and new age spirituality), we shall see that there exist fundamental differences have an important impact on worldview.
The Islamic worldview stands upon the shahada, or confession of faith, which states, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.” In Islam, Allah is not God’s name, but is simply the Arabic word for God. While Jews and Christians also affirm monotheism, Muslims understanding of God differs from the Biblical description. God is completely transcendent and is not directly knowable, but only relates to people through prophets and authoritative teachings. A Muslim would not talk about having a relationship with Allah as Christians often talk about having a relationship with Christ.
Foremost among the prophets, Muhammad was Allah’s messenger sent to correct religious misunderstandings of the past and to deliver verbatim the literal word of God in the Quran. Additionally, the Hadith contains a collection of Muhammad’s sayings and accounts of his daily practice and is an additional authoritative source for Islam. These two sources are the authoritative lens through which Muslims view all of life.
Origin – How did we get here?
When answering this question, the Christian and Islamic worldview will hold a similar viewpoint. Allah is eternal and self-existent, the creator of all. Similar to the Genesis account of creation, when Allah spoke, the universe was created. “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: when He decreeth a matter, He saith to it: ‘Be’, and it is.” (Quran 2:117).
In fact, the Kalam cosmological argument, which is popular among Christian apologists, was originally developed by Islamic philosophers to support theistic arguments. Christian apologist Norman Geisler acknowledges, “The Kalam argument is a horizontal form of the cosmological argument. The universe is not eternal, so it must have had a Cause. That Cause must be considered God. This argument has a long and venerable history among such Islamic philosophers as Alfarabi, Al Ghazali, and Avicenna.”3
The following quote, from Pakistani Muslim scholar Khurshid Ahmad, could very well have been written by a Christian:
How can one observe the inexhaustible creativity of nature, its purposefulness, its preservation of that which is morally useful and destruction of that which is socially injurious, and yet fail to draw the conclusion that behind nature there is an All-Pervading Mind of whose incessant creative activity the process of nature are but an outward manifestation? The stars scattered through the almost infinite space, the vast panorama of nature with its charm and beauty, the planned waxing and waning of the moon, the astonishing harmony of the seasons – all point towards one fact; there is a God, the Creator, the Governor. We witness a superb, flawless plan in the universe – can it be without a Planner? We see great enchanting beauty and harmony in its working – can it be without a Creator? We observe wonderful design in nature – can it be without a Designer? We feel a lofty purpose in physical and human existence – can it be without a Will working behind it? We find that the universe is like a superbly written fascinating novel – can it be without an Author?4
Identity – What does it mean to be human?
While Christians and Muslims share common ground with respect to human origins, the worldviews begin to diverge regarding human identity. Muslims do not view humans as being created in God’s image (compare to Genesis 1:26-27 and James 3:9) or as being beloved children (see 1 John 3:1), but as slaves of Allah. The Arabic word “abd” means one who is subordinated as a slave or servant, as well as to worship. A common name in Islamic lands, Abdullah, literally means “servant or slave of Allah” or “worshipper of Allah.” To worship and to submit as a slave are two sides of the same coin. Even the word Islam means “submission.”
Christians certainly should be completely submitted to God, not in any way viewing themselves as being equal to God as his image bearers. However, the Muslim view of humans as slaves to Allah, as opposed to image bearers of God with intrinsic worth and dignity, certainly impacts the way in which the Islamic world views people who are currently outside of the faith. Although there are examples of atrocities in Christian church history that could be cited, one cannot utilize violence to “convert” someone to Christianity and remain consistent with the teaching of the New Testament. However, since Islam teaches that all humans were initially born as Muslims, but that some are now in rebellion against Allah, the use of force and terror is completely justified to bring these rebellious servants back under submission. Consider just a couple of verses from the Quran:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Quran 9:29)
But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them. (Quran 9:5)
This is not to say that all Muslims agree in the use of violence and terror to advance the cause of Islam. There are many Muslims who live peaceful lives and desire peace in the world. However, this is a critique of worldview, not of individuals, and Islam’s teaching on the nature of man before Allah justifies the use of violence to force submission before him.
Morality – How should we live?
“There is no division of ethics and law” in Islam, according to Swedish Muslim writer S. Parvez Manzoor.5 Islamic law, which is primarily derived from the Quran and Hadith, is ethical by definition because they are specific commands revealed from Allah. Since Allah’s character cannot be directly known, Islam’s moral compass is calibrated by Allah’s words dictated to Muhammad in the Quran and by Muhammad’s actions recorded in the Hadith. Ram Swarup, a Hindu thinker and author, comments, “To (Muslims) morality derives from the Prophet’s actions; the moral is whatever he did. Morality does not determine the Prophet’s actions, but his actions determine and define morality. Muhammad’s acts were not ordinary acts; they were Allah’s own acts.”6
This view of morality may seem to be similar to the Judeo-Christian worldview. Certainly there are specific moral commands in both the Old and New Testament, however, Judeo-Christian morality ultimately derives from God’s character. Jesus summarizes all the laws of the Old Testament with two commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength...and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30 - 31). Morality, based on “agape” love, comes from the inside-out, not the outside-in, as it does in Islam’s divine command ethic.
Meaning – Why are we here?
The purpose of life is to be submitted to Allah and to bring others under submission to Allah. While some Muslims view jihad as merely a personal battle of self-discipline or a call to defend Islam against outside threats, historically jihad has also included the conquest of non-believing nations to bring them under submission to Allah. Famous Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote in the 14th century, “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or force.”7
A meaningful life is spent striving and fighting for the Cause of Allah:
"Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home), except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame, etc.), and those who strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has preferred in grades those who strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives above those who sit (at home).Unto each, Allah has promised good (Paradise), but Allah has preferred those who strive hard and fight, above those who sit (at home) by a huge reward." (Quran 4:95)
Destiny – What happens to us when we die?
While Muslims and Christians both believe in a final judgment, followers hold drastically different views regarding the means and methods of salvation. Although Muslim’s believe that Adam and Eve disobeyed Allah’s original command not to eat of the forbidden fruit in the garden, they believe that this act of disobedience was quickly forgiven and that humanity did not inherit a sinful nature. In fact, every human is born a Muslim, but some rebel against Allah, a rebellion that was made possible by Adam and Eve’s original sin. Islam was sent by Allah to provide a way back into proper standing before him.
While Muslim’s do believe that Allah shows mercy in salvation, it is ultimately the good works of man that save, not the grace of God. According to the Quran, “the weighing on that day (Day of Resurrection) will be the true [weighing]. So as for those for those whose scale [of good deeds] will be heavy they will be the successful [by entering Paradise]. And as for those whose scale will be light, they are those who will lose their own selves [by entering Hell] because they denied and rejected Our Ayat [proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations].” (Quran 7:8 – 9)
While there never is complete assurance of salvation, Muslims can add weight to their scale my participating in the five pillars of Islam: confessing the shahada (There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet), engaging in prayer five times per day while facing Mecca, fasting during Ramadan, giving 2.5% of their income to the poor, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca once during their lifetime.
Unlike the previous two worldviews that we have explored, secularism and new age spirituality, I find Islam to be a coherent and internally consistent worldview. For example, the previous two worldviews provide no objective foundation for moral obligations, yet people who hold these worldviews live as if moral obligations truly exist. Although secularism is built upon reason and rationality, its materialistic view of the universe unwittingly undermines the basis for libertarian free will, which would be necessary to truly engage in a rational investigation of the universe. Based on what I know thus far, I see no similar problems in Islam.
However, although Islam and Christianity do have some minor similarities, foundational differences lead to very different perspectives on humanity, morality, and destiny. Since both worldviews are coherent and internally consistent, the important question is whether either worldview is true. Despite the clichés of religious pluralism and the interfaith movement, it is impossible for both worldviews to be true, not only because of differing answers to life’s big questions, but due to fundamentally different foundations.
While both religions are monotheistic, Christianity teaches that God is triune, one being consisting three co-equal persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). To the Muslim mind, this belief is shirk, the sin of polytheism. The Quran denounces the Trinity by stating, “They do blaspheme who say, “God is one of three in a Trinity’, for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word, verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.” (Quran 5:75 – 76). Clearly, Islam denies the deity of both Christ and the Holy Spirit.
What is more, Christianity is built upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul clearly teaches, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 15:14 – 17). The truthfulness of Christianity hinges upon the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ. Islam teaches not only that Jesus did not raise from the dead, but that he wasn’t even crucified in the first place. The Quran claims, “They that said, ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of God’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for a surety they killed him not; nay, God raised him up unto Himself; and God is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Surah 4).
Based on standard methods of historical investigations, it is a bedrock fact of history that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified at the hands of Pontius Pilate. There is incredibly good evidence that points to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as the best explanation of the facts of history. A series of posts on this topic will be forthcoming sometime within the next year. For anyone who is sincerely seeking truth, whether comparing the Christian and Islamic worldview or coming from a completely different perspective, I would implore you to investigate the question as to whether Jesus of Nazareth rose from the grave. I can think of no more important question in all of history.
1) Turner, Steve. "Creed." 1993.
3) Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999. 399.
4) Ahmad, Khurshid. Islam: Its Meaning and Message. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1999. 29 – 30.
5) Manzoor, S. Parvez. “Islamic Conceptual Framework.” May 27, 2005.
6) Swarup, Ram. Understanding Islam through Hadis. Dehli: Voice of India, 1983.
7) Chapman, Colin. Cross and Crescent: Responding to the Challenge of Islam. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 293.