Another in a Lenten series, Crescent vs. Cross

Muslims think Christians worship three gods, and those are “god the father, god the son, and Mary.”

Christians think Muhammad is god, and that if Muslims worship him, they are worshipping someone who killed a lot of people, had a lot of wives, was all about power and revenge, and was a pedophile who had sex with a 9-year-old “wife.”

Whoa! How did the two major faith systems get each other’s beliefs so wrong?

Point of order: Christians worship one God in three Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — all wrapped up into one Essence. In contrast, Muslims think Allah is God with only one Person — indivisible. They say Allah never “begot,” doesn’t need any “sidekicks” and never will, and there really isn’t a Holy Spirit, though there are lots of angels, including the archangel Gabriel, who passed the Qur’an on orally to Muhammad. Muslims appear to love and revere the Qur’an the same way that Christians love and revere Jesus. To unfairly “diss” either one is disappointing and even insulting to adherents of the other faith system.

Meanwhile, Muslims highly venerate Muhammad but do not put him on a par with Allah. Muhammad was only a human and died like everybody else, they acknowledge. However, they do think he was the perfect man — clean, sincere, companionable, great in business, generous, sensual, shrewd, and yes, he could be cruel and vindictive to enemies. In contrast, Christians believe Jesus to have been the perfect man with zero faults or sins, and through the mystery of the Resurrection, gained salvation for believers and is now both in heaven and living in the hearts of those who name Him as their Savior and Master.

Muslims hear that, and think that Christians are full of apostasy and blasphemy.

I think a lot of the confusion about Christian doctrine has to do with where Muhammad grew up. He was out in the hinterlands of Saudi Arabia, where just about the only outside input was from traveling caravans, and hardly anybody could read or write, including Muhammad. As a merchant, he often went on lengthy caravan journeys himself, and encountered all sorts of people across the Middle East and North Africa. No matter how smart you are, if you can’t read or write, getting stuff exactly right is very tough.

It’s also important to note that the Bible was not translated into Arabic until 720 A.D., a century after Muhammad’s time. So even if he could read, there was no Bible for him to use to cross-check his revelations that became the Qur’an with what is stated in the Bible. He had nothing to study that could have guided him to truth or error. He had to go by his memory of what travelers and others had taught him.

The locals where Muhammad grew up were practicing polytheism. There were 360 gods and idols in the local worship center, the Ka’ba. One of them was a black meteorite named “Allah” — and indeed, reportedly it still exists within the Ka’ba, and Muslims are to kiss it during their hajj pilgrimage — even though they no longer believe that the rock was ever alive or a deity. The locals in Muhammad’s time also practiced animism — the belief that natural objects such as animals, plants, rocks and rivers have souls. Hence the veneration of the black meteorite. In pagan practices, the moon and stars were often worshipped, and you can see that influence in the selection of the crescent moon and star as the Islamic symbol. So there were a lot of ideas that are anathema to both Islam and Christianity among the local populace when Muhammad was developing his worldview.

Judaism and Christianity came to Mecca, by the oral teachings of passers-by. Then, when they left, the locals were left to try to remember exactly what they taught. That’s a prescription for error and confusion to set in. And I think that’s what happened. The locals were practicing an unorthodox form of Christianity known as Nestorianism. Then, Muhammad’s wife, who was his former boss, 15 years older, and quite wealthy, Khadija, had a slightly different form of heretical belief that undoubtedly influenced Muhammad. She had an Ebionite Christian background — a blend of Judaism and Christianity that claimed Jesus was the natural son of Joseph and Mary, and that he was called “The Messiah” because he obeyed the Jewish law. Their belief system held that Jesus didn’t come to Earth to win mankind’s acceptance into heaven through faith in Him, but only to call all humanity to obey the law.

For all these reasons, Muhammad came to believe that Jesus is not God, that He did not have the power to save mankind, and that he was just another human prophet of God, though a very good one.

Muslims would tell you that the Bible has become “corrupted” over the years, but the Qur’an has everything exactly right. It is important to note that Christians say it’s just the opposite, and that the Qur’an is a “derivative” of the Bible and a bad one at that. They say the books of the Bible pre-date the Qur’an by hundreds and even thousands of years, and the Bible has been the single-most studied book in human history, starting with the ancient Jewish scribes and continuing into New Testament times with the Bereans, who checked everything that St. Paul said with the Old Testament scriptures and gave Paul’s writings the A-OK. In the Bible, there has never been an important piece of doctrine ever proven to have been false. But when you compare statements in the Bible to statements in the Qur’an, you can see that one of them has to be “right,” and the other has to be “wrong.” Therein lies the conflict.

For an idea of how “corrupted” Muslims believe the Bible to be, you will not find a Bible for sale in a Muslim bookstore. However, you will find a Qur’an in most Christian bookstores. Over the centuries, the two faith systems have not done a great job of comparing and debating their two “takes” on God, sin, atonement, salvation, the status of women, etc. We can only hope that more of that happens.

It is also very important to note that Muslims do not “study” the Qur’an the way Christians “study” the Bible. The Qur’an is mostly in the oral tradition, and is to be memorized, recited, and listened to. Muslims mostly leave the interpretation duty up to the imams around the world, who are more scholarly. However, each imam — all men — has his own power, can issue an interpretation of the Qur’an which is completely different than anyone ever before, but Muslims can choose to obey it, or not. It’s kind of a “doctrine by consensus” type of arrangement, which you can see would lead to conflicts and confusion over the years. So in a way, Muslims are at the mercy of the quality of their imams’ scholarship. In some ways, that’s great . . . but also poses a danger.

For their part, Christians can point to quite a few instances in which the Qur’an’s presentation of stories from the Bible differ from the originals or twist details. The Qur’an mentions more than 50 persons and events mentioned in the Bible. For example, the Genesis creation story has Allah naming all the animals instead of Adam. Then Allah teaches Adam, the first human, to memorize all the names of all things and angels. Then Allah had the angels prostrate themselves before Adam to honor Allah’s new creation. In the Qur’an, Satan refuses to bow to Adam, and gets kicked out of heaven; there is no such depiction in the Bible. Eventually, the Qur’an asserts, God thoroughly forgave Adam and Eve for the “original sin” after they begged for mercy, while in the Bible, God punishes humans for that sin by instituting women’s childbirth pain, a need to work for a living, and death.

In the story of Noah in the Bible, only Noah, Noah’s wife and their three sons and families board the Ark, survive the flood, and live happily ever after; in the Qur’an, though, other people joined them in the Ark, and Noah’s wife and one of his sons reject Noah and die in the flood. In the Bible, the Ark comes to reset on the mountains of Ararat, but in the Qur’an, it rests on the hills of Mount Judi.

There are many other elements of the Bible, big and small, that are slightly different in the Qur’an, enough to cause a misunderstanding of the original meaning. But because Muslims are convinced the Bible has been “corrupted,” it is difficult to get most of them to sit down and study those differences.

It is sobering to ponder the warning in Galatians 1:8: “(E)ven if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.” Christians have a basis for believing that Islam is a false doctrine opposed to Christianity and that Muhammad meets the definition of a “false prophet.” In contrast, Muhammad said that the archangel Gabriel appeared to him in a cave and started 23 years of revelations which were compiled into the Qur’an. So Muslims honor the angel Gabriel, who they say gave them a different gospel than the Bible, but Muslims deny the existence of the Christian Holy Spirit. That would seem to fit the warning in Gal. 1:8. The Muslim view that there is no Holy Spirit contradicts Jesus’ teachings about the Holy Spirit as being co-equal with Him and God the Father in the Trinity. It must be pointed out that, in the Bible, the one and only blasphemy and unforgiveable sin that can block you from heaven and drop-kick you straight to hell is blaspheming the Holy Ghost (Luke 12:10).

It is also sobering to note that Muslims consider all efforts to convert Muslims to Christianity to be forbidden. That’s why you don’t see Christian churches, missions and schools in Muslim-majority countries, nor do you find any Bibles, crosses or other evidence of Christian belief. However, you do see mosques, Islamic centers and Islamic schools in the U.S., and Muslims are actively recruiting among Americans to join Islam. Also, two of the Islamic hadith (the rules for living amassed by imams over the centuries based on Qur’anic teachings) state that death must be the punishment from apostasy away from Islam. In stark contrast, Jesus’ last commandment, upon rising into heaven, was for His believers to go forth and make disciples of the whole world, presumably including modern-day Muslims: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19,20)

Therein lies the conflict. In the words of the ancient scholars: YIKES! :>)