In comparing Islam and Christianity, it is important to look at the differences between the two holy books that are at the core of the two belief systems. Here are some key points:
Qur’an: The word means “the reciting” or “the reading.” The Qur’an is viewed as “the Mother of books,” and is very, very highly respected by Muslims. It is THE textbook for children in Muslim schools. Muslims do not even touch the Qur’an before first washing and purifying themselves. It is never to be laid on the ground. Nothing is ever to be placed on top of it. (Apologies for the photo accompanying this article — only photo I could find with both books.) It is often kept on a high ledge near the ceiling of the room. A high accomplishment is to be able to memorize and recite the entire book, or to write it out by hand. The word “Islam” means “submission.” The word “Muslim” means “one who submits to Allah.” The Islamic prophet Mohammed could not read or write, but the Qur’an is the written dictation, originally in Arabic, of verbal revelations first given to him starting in late 609 A.D. Muslims believe Mohammed fell into a prophetic trance and was visited in a cave by the archangel Gabriel when he was 40 years old. The revelations continued gradually over a period of the next 23 years until Mohammed’s death in 632 A.D. Most of the revelations came to Mohammed after he left his birthplace, Mecca, where his ministry was peaceful and cooperative, but met with much opposition, so he moved to Medina, where Islam became much more shaped toward military strength, political control, and much more geared toward invasion in the name of Islam. Scholars believe 29 scribes over his lifetime recorded the revelations and read them aloud to him for verification. The writings were put together in book form within 20 years after his death. After Mohammed’s death, men who had been very close to him and remembered his oral teachings, led by the first caliph (or king), Abu Bakr, recorded additional revelations. About 12 years later, the third caliph, ‘Uthman, ordered one authorized copy to be made, and all the rest burned. That was the version that was distributed around the world. The versions available today are exactly the same as then. Muslims believe the Qur’an is Allah’s final and complete revelation to humankind, an exact copy of the original, which they believe is on an engraved tablet in the presence of Allah.
Bible: The word means “paper” or “scroll” or “book.” The Bible is very, very highly respected by Christians. It is viewed as eternal and equal to, or the same as, the actual Savior, Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) The Bible is considered the inspired and error-free Word of God, protected over the centuries by very, very diligent scribes and copyists. Reading and studying the Bible, and praying over its verses, is seen as communicating with God through the Holy Spirit. A “Christian” is someone who believes Jesus is God and died on the Cross to atone for our sins and win us eternal life. The Bible tells the story of His life on Earth, plus all that preceded His bodily presence here (called the “Incarnation”) as well as lots of advice for applying Jesus’ teachings written by his closest followers, including St. Paul and many of the original disciples. The Bible contains 66 books written by 40 authors covering a period of approximately 1,600 years. The first books were written many hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The last of these, forming what we now call the “Old Testament,” was written in 400 B.C. The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew, with a few passages in Aramaic. About 100 years before the birth of Christ, it was translated into Greek. The New Testament was written in Greek in the years between 50 A.D. and 100 A.D. There are several versions which differ slightly: the King James Version, the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the New American Standard Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, and the New Jerusalem Bible are examples. Linguists say that the diction and style of the Qur’an is very different from the diction and style of the Bible, indicating that they could not have been inspired by the same author(s).
Qur’an: This book contains 6,247 verses and is about four-fifths as long as the New Testament. Most Muslims believe a lot of its beauty and power are best in Arabic, but as the religion spread away from Saudi Arabia, it has been translated into languages such as English. In Arabic, the lines are written and read from right to left. It has 114 chapters, called “surahs,” of varying lengths. They are not arranged chronologically, nor by topic, genre or chronology. After the first surah, which is a short, general prayer, the surahs are arranged with the longer chapters first and the shorter ones last. Surah 2 is around 20 pages in Arabic, but 108 and 112 are only one line. The first surah is said in Arabic around the world as part of the ritual prayer. The Qur’an covers matters of doctrine, social organization, and legislation. The surahs dictated around the time Muhammad first began, while in Mecca, are generally peaceful and associative; those dictated when he moved to Medina and began expanding Islam by various battles are darker and more warlike. Because of the principle of abrogation, in which older verses are annulled when newer ones were revealed to Mohammed, the darker, more violent verses are the ones in force, and the more peaceful ones are no longer considered the standard.
Bible: The book has 31,102 verses and has been translated into almost every language on Earth. The 66 books are arranged mostly chronologically, beginning with the origin of the world in Genesis, and describing the end of the world in Revelation. There are many sections that are universally familiar to Christians, including the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”) But it is not widespread to have schoolchildren memorizing more than a few verses, and not in weekday school as the Muslim students do, but only those who attend a church and its Christian education classes. The Bible used to be an important textbook in schools, even public schools, but in recent years, the secularization of the schools has relegated Bible reading and study mainly to Christian private schools, and church-sponsored classes once a week.
Qur’an: Salvation comes through Allah’s mercy to Muslims who practice the 5 Pillars of Islam, but salvation is not assured and you don’t find out if you get entrance into paradise until after death. You have to earn salvation. Allah will decide if your sins outweighed your good works after death (Surah 101:6-9). The only exception is to die in jihad — to die while fighting the enemy of Islam. The word “jihad” means “struggle.” About 60% of the Qur’an centers around jihad. Muslims are instructed to fight in jihad against anybody who stands in the way of spreading Islam, or refuses to enter into Islam (Surah 8:39). Those who die in jihad go straight to paradise. At death, they go into the coffin just as they died, in the same clothes, unwashed, with blood still on them as a sign of honor before Allah. Other Muslims are washed and given clean clothes at death. The 5 Pillars are mandatory: (1) statement of belief (“There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”), (2) pray five times a day while facing Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, with special prayers on Fridays, (3) give alms, similar to a tax, to be distributed to those in need, (4) fasting from food or drink during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan, which starts at the first visual sighting of the ninth crescent moon according to the Islamic calendar, and (5) pilgrimage at least once in your lifetime to Mecca, where a 5-day ritual is followed.
Bible: Salvation comes as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ as God, and belief in His death on the Cross and Resurrection, and that faith should be expressed in the ritual of baptism. You cannot earn salvation. But since Jesus promised the thief on the other Cross that he would see Him in Paradise, it is thought that if you don’t have an opportunity to get baptized, but you believe, you will still be saved, and that’s a sure thing. Good things such as tithing (10% of your income), helping the poor, worshipping in church, etc., are all expected of a true Christian, but they are not mandatory for salvation. There are only three instances in which it is acceptable to God to kill another person: (1) in a just war, (2) in self-defense, and (3) in diligently-carried-out, state-conducted capital punishment with all legal protections enabled. This is very different from the concept in the Qur’an, in which it is permissible to kill anyone who won’t convert to Islam, though you have to try your uttermost to convert them first, and it is permissible to merely subjugate them, in second-class citizen status, and collect a poll tax from them, rather than kill them outright.
Qur’an: Does not describe prophesies and miracles, other than Mohammed’s general prophecy that Islam would be militarily victorious. Contains some questionable scientific statements, such as the idea that human beings are formed from a clot of blood (Surah 23:14) and that the sun sets in a spring of murky water (Surah 18:86). The doctrine of “abrogation” or naskh (Surah 2:106) means that an instruction that Mohammed gave later in his life replaces one that he gave earlier in his life. But both are left in the Qur’an, even if they directly contradict one another. The most famous of these is Surah 9:5, “The Verse of the Sword”: “Fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every strategem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” That verse came later when the earlier peaceful and kind messages in the Qur’an were abrogated by the more militant ones. Muslims know this, but most Christians do not. This is how so many Christians believe Islam is “a religion of peace”: they are relying on the older, now-irrelevant and more peaceful Qur’anic verses. Similarly, one of the older verses commanded people to stop drinking alcohol when it was time to go to the mosque for prayer, but another later one prohibited it entirely. (Surahs 2:219 and 5:90) Some verses say Muslims and Christians can get along fine, but later ones say Muslims must require Christians to convert to Islam. In the beginning of Islam, women were not forced to wear a hijab, but in later verses, they were commanded to stay in the house and wear a cover. Scholars believe the principle of abrogation raises the possibility that Allah may send more verses someday that would change the doctrine once again. One notable example is that Surah 2:106 establishes the principle of abrogation, but Surah 10:64 says, “No change can there be in the words of God.”
Bible: Fulfilled prophecies and described miracles form a central part of the Bible. No scientific statement in the Bible has ever been proven to be false. The ritual cleansing laws and ceremonial laws of the ancient Hebrews are in the Old Testament but are understood to have been rendered irrelevant by the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as well as by modern-day advancements (refrigeration, better sanitation, etc.), and so Christians are not expected to follow those laws any more. That is not exactly like abrogation in the Qur’an because the actions themselves were not changed to something else, just stopped. There are a number of Bible verses about battles and violence when the ancient Israelites were taking over the Promised Land from the Canaanites, but those instances are strictly limited to that time and place, and do not apply to any other time, place or people group. There is no notion of “abrogation” in the Bible. The Old and New Testaments are intricately intertwined; Jesus quoted Old Testament verses constantly, and the Old Testament verses have a number of miraculous “fulfillments” in the accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, which point to Him as the Messiah.
MOHAMMED, JESUS AND CHARACTER OF GOD/ALLAH:
Qur’an: Mohammed was the perfect man, worthy of imitation as the standard for Muslim behavior alongside the Qur’an. His actions were collected as the “Sunnah,” kept as part of the “Hadith” (traditions) to model these ideal behaviors and practices for Muslims on down the centuries. They are taught to Muslims as the basis for conduct and law. If Mohammed did it, you should do it, too. Mohammed is shown in the Qur’an several times killing people; Jesus preached nonviolence. Mohammed is shown ordering his men to raid caravans and keep the booty as long as they gave him one-fifth. Mohammed instructs his followers to kill the people in Mecca who had opposed him, though Jesus taught we should love our enemies and never seek revenge. Mohammed was married to 12 women, though Surah 4:3 limits the number of wives a man can have to four. He was married to his wife Aisha when she was 6, and consummated the marriage when she was 9. Jesus defended women in the New Testament, but Mohammed ordered the beating of a woman to retrieve information from her. Muslims are instructed to kill people in obedience to the Qur’an, but Christians are being disobedient when they kill people for any reasons other than just war, self-defense and capital punishment. The Qur’an includes a curse against Mohammed’s uncle (Surah 111), an admonition to Mohammed’s wives to remain subject to him (Surah 33), and several other verses that show that the Qur’an is highly focused on the lifetime of Mohammed himself. Denies that Jesus is the Son of God. Does describe the virgin birth (Surah 3:45-47). Mohammed is the top prophet, though he did sin, and Jesus did not sin but is not divine, only a prophet, ranking far below Mohammed (Surah 4:171). The Qur’an says that Christ never really died on the cross (Surah 4:157), but that Judas or Simon of Cyrene were costumed up to pose as him, or that he was taken down from the cross in a coma and later revived. Mischaracterizes the Trinity of the Christian Bible as being three different gods (instead of one God with three Personalities, in the same way that one man might be a grandfather, a father and a son — three-in-one). Continuing that mischaracterization, though, the Qur’an teaches that anyone who believes that God has or needs “partners” is guilty of shirk, or blasphemy, a capital offense. Presents God as Allah, who is all-powerful, unreachable and impersonal, who can lie and change His mind. Allah does not love those who do not believe in Him. The word “Father” is not among the 99 names ascribed to Allah in Islam (Jesus Himself taught that God is our personal heavenly Father in Matthew 5:16, Mark 8:38, 11:26, etc.). Because of the principle of abrogation, it is hard to explain in the verses which have been annulled later whether Allah changed his mind or did not have foreknowledge the first time. It is possible that Allah could annul promises of eternal life, etc., some day, which makes it difficult to trust Him with your eternal soul. Mentions Jesus and others from the Bible. Because of another principle in the Qur’an, takkiyah, it is considered OK to lie and deceive as long as it advances Islam. In Mohammed’s life, he had to practice takkiyah before he had a lot of followers and resources, in order to gain strength and power for his movement. Then his approach changed from peaceful to warlike. The Qur’an teaches that this contrast in approaches extends to Muslims today who wish to advance Islam.
Bible: Affirms that Jesus is the sinless Son of God; was conceived supernaturally in Mary by the Holy Spirit; is God and not a mere human prophet; died on the cross but was resurrected; lives today in the hearts of believers as well as being in heaven through the mystery of the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit — three-in-one; marriage is between one man and one woman for life; God is presented as always good. He is a Father who loves everyone, even unbelievers. God never changes; what He has proclaimed in the Bible as true, is true, and will not change in the future. The Bible does not mention Mohammed or any other Islamic persons, places or symbols. Muslims dismiss the Bible as full of errors and claim it has been “corrupted” through the years, but the Dead Sea Scrolls discover in 1947 showed that today’s Bible is exactly the same as when originally written, with just a few “typo’s” that have nothing to do with basic doctrinal claims.