When it comes to belief in some explanation to all of this, there is no shortage of options to choose from. There’s an ever-growing list of religions in the buffet line. Always has been, especially with our ability to hand-select the things we like best from each religion and create our own that sounds easiest and most pleasing to ourselves. A little of Jesus’ grace when we aren’t at our best; a little well-deserved karma when we’re on our A-game. Whatever is most convenient often takes the cake of the moment for the wanderer, despite how almost every religion teaches total exclusivity.
There’s also the choice to not believe in anything or to just not care one way or the other. I will probably always have a special interest in apologetics–that is the logical defense of God’s existence and the resulting implications. That anyone could use logic and reasoning to reach the conclusion that God is imaginary or irrelevant amazes me, especially since it’s that very same logic and reasoning that cannot be explained without Him.
On to the point…
Very recently, however, it’s been the logical and honest comparison between the major world religions that has been fueling my curiosity. So I thought I’d start a new series of articles to share some of what I’ve learned.
First up: Islam
It seems fitting to start here since Islam is currently growing faster than any other religion in the world. As a matter of fact, you who love evangelism listen up because I’ve heard that 50 percent of the world’s unreached population is Muslim. That, while only about two percent of Christian missionaries are seeking to reach them. I understand the gap, given the amazing job that Islam has done to not only insulate itself, even to the point of killing anyone who threatens their system, but also the way they so militantly spread their message and influence. But that’s important to recognize, because what that tells us is the sincerity and quality of this growth is arguably less from honest persuasion and more from brutal force. These converts aren’t loyal to their belief because of honest faith. They’re often loyal out of survival if not a long family tradition.
I’ve been to places where people were offered a job or protection if they converted to Islam. Some might argue that is even more persuasive than an assault rifle. In poor countries where Islam is dominant, widespread education is often unavailable, literacy rates are exceptionally low and the biggest concern for a man is often how he will find his family’s next meal. These motives are often plenty to gain a basic form of loyalty. In these regions, Islam seems to function more as a political tool than an honest, personal faith with the purpose of bringing others into a right relationship with our Creator.
I understand that this is just an argument of hairy tactics, which the historical Christian church can also be accused of, to be sure. But the theology of Islam also gets sidetracked quickly when you look in the Qur’an itself:
“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book (Christians), but say, ‘We believe in the revelation which has come down to us (through Muhammad) and in that which came down to you (through Jesus); Our Allah and your Allah is one'” (29:46).
Aside from the differences in character between Muhammad, a feared warlord, and Jesus, a respected and blameless miracle-worker, Muslims actually hold the Bible as authoritative teaching from God. They are taught that the messages from the Bible and Qur’an agree with each other, and that the Qur’an was only revealed in order that the same message of the earlier scriptures could be revealed in Arabic (5:48). A doubting Muslim is even told in 10:94 to go and see for himself in the Bible or talk to a Christian.
The way Islamic teachers get around all the obvious differences between the books is by teaching that the Bible has been corrupted since the time the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammed. The problem with this, however, is that we’ve since discovered virtually entire copies of Old and New Testament books that date back to before Muhammad was born. We’ve found that the version then matches the version we have now– like, to the letter. So the Bible of Muhammad’s day (when he apparently agreed with it) is the same as it is today. It cannot be corrupted now, unless it was also corrupted then, which would make Muhammad a liar.
If Muhammad said the Bible and the Qur’an agree with each other, then any information between these two books that does not agree, by nature, automatically discredits the teaching of at least one of them. It makes no sense for the Qur’an to tell its followers that the Bible (and even Jesus) are of God, but then also teach that Jesus did not sacrifice Himself in order for our lives to be counted as righteous to God. That exact message is the entire purpose for the Bible’s existence, yet the Qur’an says:
And their saying: Surely we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the apostle of Allah, and they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but the matter was made dubious to them, and most surely those who differ therein are only in a doubt about it: they have no knowledge respecting it, but only follow a conjecture, and they know it not for sure. Nay: Allah exalted him in His presence, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. (4:157)
Jesus’ murder and subsequent resurrection are the two elements that Jesus Himself taught were absolutely necessary for us to be in right relationship with God (Luke 24:7, Matthew 26:2, Mark 10:33). His sacrificial death, which the Qur’an actively denies, is today considered a historical fact by modern, independent scholars– much like the death of Julius Caesar, which is taught to our kids in history class textbooks with total certainty. There are even ancient sources outside the Bible which tell of Jesus’ death. These outside sources also verify that His followers led a massive, peaceful movement, based on the claim that they saw Him risen from the dead. Those early followers were infamously moral, ethical, and careful in their lifestyles pursuing and recording Jesus’ teachings.
But again, Jesus’ death is something that Muslims reject (despite still believing that he was taken up to heaven) on the ambiguous grounds of the Qur’an simply saying that Christians are just confused and don’t know what they’re talking about, as seen above.
Not only did those Christians know what they were talking about–they saw it with their own eyes and then witnessed to its truth, many of them right to their own brutal deaths. And they weren’t alone. There were likely thousands of people, Jews and Romans alike, who attended or observed the process of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jerusalem around the time of Passover would have been like a shopping mall the day before Christmas, and he was paraded through the city on his way to Golgotha. If even the Pharisees, who were very much opposed to Jesus, didn’t try to deny that Jesus was killed, how can someone like Muhammad who lived 700 years later and about a thousand miles away from Jerusalem have any credibility when he basically just says, “Those Christians are just stupid”? Sounds like the Christians aren’t the ones with “conjecture.”
I find it very odd that the appeal from Muhammad is that Jesus was taken up to heaven but never actually died. Given all the absurdly reliable evidence that supports Jesus’ death, it would be much easier to argue that Jesus died but never rose from the dead. Besides, Muhammad himself died and stayed dead. It’s easier and much more logical because dying requires no miracle. Being raised from the dead, however, requires a miracle of grand scale. So does getting an elevator ride to heaven. But it’s interesting because it was Jesus’ death, not His resurrection, that paid for our sins. By rejecting His death, Muslims subsequently reject the ransom He paid for their sins. His physical resurrection and being taken to heaven is simply what made His teachings and His redeeming death worth sharing.
Muslims claim that Jesus’ deity and death for the forgiveness of sins were inventions by His followers after Allah brought Jesus back into His holy presence. This leaves all of Jesus’ teachings about dying as a ransom for many and being physically raised three days later (Matthew 12:40, 16:21, Mark 10:45, John 2:19-22, among others) meaningless.
If Jesus taught those things, and very clearly held Himself to be one with God, but then didn’t do what He said He would do, how can Muslims still hold Him as a righteous prophet and not a lunatic? Muhammad himself revered Jesus as a prophet. But then he basically called Jesus a liar by discrediting the very purpose Jesus had for His public ministry. I didn’t know prophets could lie like that. And if they can, then why trust a man whose own sins are mentioned three times in the Qur’an (Muhammad) over the man whom the Qur’an itself calls sinless (Jesus)?
It’s extremely important to know that the Qur’an teaches Jesus to be not just a prophet from God, but also the Word of God and the Spirit of God (4:171) who was born of a virgin and performed many miracles, including raising people from the dead and giving sight to the blind. Yeah, that’s in the Qur’an. But here’s where it starts getting really crazy. Muslims also believe that the heavens and the earth were created by Allah through, drumroll please…. the Word. But apparently it wasn’t Jesus, the Word. It was a different one. That would make Jesus into the Creator of the world, uncreated Himself but directly with God in the beginning. And Muslims can’t have that.
Another fun fact about Jesus in Islam that I’ll get into later: Muslims uphold that Jesus was not only taken up to heaven but that He is coming again at the end of the age.
The Qur’an was apparently privately given to Muhammad by Gabriel, an archangel messenger of God. At first, Muhammad thought he was being afflicted and possessed by an evil spirit and was horribly terrified of him. But this doesn’t add up. Every reference in the Bible of a messenger of God visiting a human, while there is fear, there is also an immediate recognition by the man or woman that the messenger is of God. The fear is more of an extreme reverence and the angel is never mistaken for being evil as Muhammad first believed. He was so tormented that he actually planned to kill himself until his wife influenced him otherwise. The reason this is so interesting to me is because there is said to be another archangel named Lucifer, also known as Satan. Muhammad said the angel identified himself as Gabriel, but what if it was Lucifer? From what I understand about Satan, he happens to be a very good liar. Satan is the one character in God’s kingdom who works to prevent people from believing that Jesus died in order to restore their personal relationships with God. And I’m pretty sure that Satan is totally comfortable with letting people try to earn their own grace without the Son of God, who said our only hope of reaching and knowing God is found within His death.
Muslims, like Christians, believe in the Holy Spirit; however, they do not see it as a gift directly resulting from Jesus’ death (obviously). Instead, they consider the archangel Gabriel as the Holy Spirit and look to Gabriel as God’s messenger. The problem is that Jesus is quoted in John 14:17 as saying, “(God will send the) Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now (Jesus referring to Himself) and later will be in you.”
Muslims have read this passage and decided that Jesus was actually predicting Muhammad to be this coming spirit of truth who would do greater things than Jesus Himself did (John 14:12). Except the only miracle Muhammad is credited for is being the one whom Allah revealed the Qur’an through. He was not born of a virgin; he performed no miracles; and he died an unassuming, natural death, without promising to come back or even knowing where he was going (Islam teaches no assurance of salvation). And last I checked, Muhammad isn’t “in” any of us.
I think it’s very important to understand that Muhammad didn’t write the Qur’an. Muslims do not allow Muhammad to be the author of the Qur’an because Allah alone is the author. That is how they uphold the very words and therefore the pages they are on to be holy. They say Muhammad was only the verbal vessel Allah used to reveal it, while others memorized and then wrote down what was already revealed. We won’t even get into the fact that the Qur’an shows a blatant misunderstanding of the Trinity of God, as taught through the Bible. (If the Qur’an really is authored by Allah himself, did he not quite understand the Christian faith enough to accurately explain its beliefs in this miracle book Muslims call the Qur’an?)
Do you remember something I said earlier about the Qur’an claiming to contain the same message as the Bible? And how modern Islamic teachers explain the differences away by saying the Bible has been corrupted? Let’s apply some more logic based on the Qur’an being the uncreated word of God, perfect, miraculous, and eternally true. That would mean that anything the Qur’an says is never allowed to be untrue. So, we have another problem, because if what Islamic scholars say is true, then the Qur’an was only true for a few short years after it was revealed to Muhammad– not eternally.
Interestingly enough, Islam still upholds Muhammad as the prophet for the world– held in higher regard than Jesus, despite the severe lack of credentials. But if Muhammad is the prophet for the world, I wonder why the book Allah revealed through Him was in a language so little of the world could understand. Those daily prayers that Muslims have to recite must be in Arabic because that’s the original “holy version” of the prayer. But only about 20 percent of the world’s Muslim population speaks Arabic. The New Testament attesting to Jesus, however, was written in the language of the largest, most advanced civilization the world had yet known. It’s been the civilization that has influenced the rest of the world since its time. By that standard, I would call Jesus the prophet for the world.
Even the family tree of Islam doesn’t add up. To make a long story short (read Genesis 15-17 for the details), Muslims believe Ishmael (whose genealogy leads to Muhammad) was the God-favored son of Abraham, not Isaac (whose genealogy leads to Jesus). But in reading how it was all described, it sure sounds like Isaac was the son through whom God intended to bless the nations.
God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:19-21)
Meanwhile, the Qu’ran freely admits that Jesus was the Messiah, which is a figure that represents the blessing and everlasting covenant promised through Abraham. But if Jesus was the Messiah, then what claim can Muslims possibly hold about Ishmael? David and Solomon, who are in Jesus’ lineage, not Ishmael’s, are even in the Qu’ran. Why, if Ishmael is the one who received the blessing of God?
The entire structure of Islam hangs on one very squeaky hinge: the belief that God didn’t actually mean what He said in Genesis 17:19 where He told Abraham that he would make a covenant with Isaac and specifically not Ishmael.
Because Islam holds the Old Testament as the foundation of their own religion, then it makes sense why they are so particular about controlling the availability of education and shutting out and silencing outside influence from their culture. I recently watched an interview with a highly respected Muslim imam (leader) who said he would never trust anything that a non-Muslim told him. I’m pretty sure we would all agree that this worldview is how bigotry beyond reason is formed.
Finally, Islam is one of the most polarizing religions. Some say it teaches peace while we are presented with almost-daily news stories featuring jihadists thoroughly convinced it teaches war and conquest. Which is it? Both, actually, which makes things really confusing and also convenient when many converts are completely at the mercy of what their mentor Muslims decide to teach them.
Let me explain this a bit more. Christians say that Jesus lived a perfect life, which makes what He did just as important as what He said. The same goes for Islamic teaching. Muhammad is loyally respected for living a blameless Muslim life, which makes what he did equally as “holy” as the words that were revealed through him. So while he may have plenty of eloquent, seemingly-peaceful sound bites in the Qu’ran (which, again, often completely misinterprets what the foundation of Christianity was actually teaching), Muhammad’s lifestyle as a war general who directly ordered the beheadings of hundreds of people stands as a shining example of a worthy and noble Muslim life.
The Bible indeed contains pretty graphic violence, however, its conquest stories are not spoken in general commands but rather the historical telling of specific events. For example, Israel coming into the Promised Land. Meanwhile, the Qu’ran teaches that Islam will reach full power through the leadership of a coming figure they call “the Mahdi,” who will unite Muslims and lead them to dominate the world not through love and peace, but through war and bloodshed. This is primarily accomplished through the destruction and murder of Jews, Christians and even lukewarm Mulsims who don’t willingly convert to or follow the Mahdi’s entourage. This is the series of events the Islamic State believes it is ushering in. That’s kinda creepy. But it’s extremely creepy in the sense that all of the descriptions about the Mahdi seem to match the descriptions in Revelation about the Antichrist. There’s even a Muslim-siding Jesus who finally comes back and serves under the Mahdi. And the description of this Muslim Jesus matches Revelation’s references to the False Prophet. It’s even more curious that he apparently will go to war against another figure who also claims to be Jesus but is siding with the Jews and Christians, who have been unified under Him. Like I said– creepy.
All you really need to do is to ask a reasonably educated Muslim to describe the end times he or she believes in. You will find that they are essentially waiting in preparation for an all out war against the world and its unbelievers. Under the prophecies that define their religion, they must express belief that Israel as a nation and a people will and must be wiped off the face of the earth. It doesn’t matter what argument some Muslims give that the Qu’ran doesn’t encourage violence and it doesn’t tell them to go on jihad and spread Islam through war. The fact is, their version of the end of the world, which is a current and future reality, does involve global jihad.
These arguments would likely do some serious damage if presented to anyone who had been taught to think and reason for himself. But instead, Muslim culture is characterized (often violently) by allowing very limited education and zero outside sources–both of which Christianity actually welcomes and is affirmed by. Pakistan’s branch of Al-Qaeda is credited with destroying over 1,000 schools, including the recent execution of over 100 students younger than 12 at point blank range. Education and free thought and questioning is a threat for Islam while it bolsters Christianity.
Even so, and this is the most important part, the answer as Christians is amazingly still to love. Funny, it’s almost like Jesus knew what He was talking about or something. Surprisingly enough, what has seemed to have more influence than any kind of logical argument in getting a Muslim to consider Christianity is to show the kind of radical, sacrificial love that Jesus showed us. The logical arguments described above are much more useful once someone is open to considering that maybe there’s something more to this guy they call “Isa” (Jesus). Muslims often cannot understand a Christian’s willingness to die for the sake of someone else’s salvation. In their mind, those martyred only do so to secure their own ticket to heaven.
The astonishing thing about the Islamic isolation is that many Muslims are converting to Christianity after visions and dreams where Jesus has privately revealed Himself to them. It’s far more common than we might think, which proves that we as Christians need only to live out our faith, loving our neighbors in the face of danger and persecution (the way Jesus loved us and prepared us for) and positioning ourselves to be there to explain who this amazing God that we serve really is.