There are amazing numbers of similarities between Christianity and
Islam. Neither side seems to be willing to recognize this, but
it is certainly true. There are also quite a lot of differences.|
One GodBoth the Bible and the Koran insist that there is ONE God. Jews call Him Jehovah, Christians call Him God, and Muslims call Him Allah. But they are certainly all worshipping the very same God!
All three religions point to the First Commandment which specifies that there is only One God. Christians add a complicating factor in thinking of that One God as "Three Persons" in the "Trinity" but that does not alter the fact that all Christians believe that there is actually just One God.
Abraham was the first True Believer in GodChristians and Jews glory in the story of Abraham, who demonstrated his total Devotion to God by his willingness to Sacrifice his son because God asked him to do so. It is broadly accepted that this willingness established Abraham as the FIRST True believer in God (even though Adam and Noah and others had earlier had interactions with God, none had demonstrated such an amazing Devotion).
Few Christians and Jews are aware of just why Mecca is the "center" of Islamic faith. All Muslims face Mecca during their many daily Prayers. One of their "Five Pillars" of Faith is to accomplish a Pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during the person's lifetime. Mecca is important to them primarily for one reason, the presence of the Kaaba. Muslims believe that Abraham himself built that cube-shaped building (with the help of his son, Ishmael) using, among other materials, the "Black Stone". Since Abraham is recognized as the very first True believer in God (Allah), the building that he personally built, the Kaaba, in Mecca, is incredibly important.
Muslims see two separate reasons for believing that Jerusalem is very important. The first is again associated with Abraham, as Islamic beliefs are that the location where Abraham was willing to sacrifice the life of his son (Ishmael) was on the "Dome on the Rock" near Jerusalem. In itself, that would be enough for Muslims to revere that city, and in the very first few months of Islam, Muslims faced Jerusalem for their Prayers (before soon facing Mecca and the Kaaba instead, which has been true ever since around 624 AD).
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Christians are generally surprised that the Koran also presents Mary and Jesus! These presentations are considerably different, though. Jesus is presented as a Prophet, to be respected and honored and revered, but NOT as a Savior. This difference represents the source for virtually ALL of the conflicts between Christianity and Islam! Except for those matters, the beliefs of Christianity and Islam are amazingly similar, with generosity and love and brotherhood central to expected behavior.
This seems like an important area to investigate. If we might better understand it, we might see opportunities for finding agreements and compatibilities.
It appears that there may have been a SINGLE reason for this problem. Early in Muhammad's life, he was not a particularly religious man. During his childhood, an older relative was a Christian Clergyman, and so Muhammad heard some things about Christian Faith.
As it happened, even Christian scholars were still arguing over many aspects of Jesus, particularly His Nature [whether human, Divine, both-separate, both-blended, adopted, subordinate, etc.]. At the Council of Nicaea, nearly 300 years earlier, a gathering of Christian scholars had determined that Jesus certainly WAS God (as earlier Christians had long believed) but, in order to avoid a direct conflict with the First Commandment's statement of there being One God, they developed the concept of the "Trinity". At the time, they probably didn't realize how complex a concept the Trinity had to be! On the one hand, the Trinity had to affirm that there was One God. On the other hand, they felt the need to explain the extremely different "Personalities" of the Old Testament Jehovah (powerful and severe and strict) and the New Testament Jesus (Gentle and Loving and Kind). In addition, they saw the Presence of the Holy Spirit as being yet another "Personality" which was ALSO the One God. The scholars who met at Nicaea decided to describe this situation as a "Trinity" which IS the One God, but where He "appears to us" as Three VERY distinct "Persons".
This concept is incredibly difficult to think through, even today! It is very difficult to logically see how anything can be ONE and THREE at the same time! In any case, for several hundred years after the Council of Nicaea, there were many "variant" opinions regarding the Nature of Christ and regarding just what the "Trinity" meant. It was not unusual for Christians to think (as many yet do today) that Jesus could be thought of absolutely independently from "the Father" and "the Holy Spirit", essentially as though He (Jesus) was a separate God. This problem still endures, as many modern Christians seem to perceive of the Trinity as a "team" where each of the Three have specific functions such that the "team" is able to do all it wants to do. NOTE: The Trinity is NOT a "team"! We have exactly ONE God! He is NOT a "team"!
During Muhammad's childhood, it is easy to imagine that his exposure to Christian beliefs might have been affected by such confusion in the Christian community. As with many people today who have grave doubts regarding Christianity, who hear these "team" references and (mis)understand that to apparently mean that Christians must think that there is a SET of THREE GODS, but how could that be true, when we all know that the First Commandment makes it crystal clear that there is only One God?
Around 600 AD, Muhammad very clearly understood that there was ONE and only one God, Whom he called Allah. Some people could say that he had actually learned that from Jews, but Muslims believe he was told that by God (Allah) Himself in some caves. That is in perfect agreement with Judaism and Christianity. But he apparently had a misunderstanding as referred to above regarding Jesus. It is associated with the Christian concept of the Trinity. Since Christians were (and still are) VERY aggressive in referring to Jesus as 'God', Muhammad could easily have seen that as an obvious violation of the belief in ONE GOD. For that reason, there is no possible way that Muhammad or his Muslim followers could ever tolerate Jesus being God, because His followers (Christians) clearly seemed to be claiming that He was a SECOND God! In the sense that he understood it, Muhammad was absolutely correct!
It is important to note that Muslims see a huge distinction between Christ (Whom they greatly revere as a Prophet) and Christians (the followers who apparently considered Jesus as a SECOND God, PROVING that they are misled!)
However, Christians do NOT believe that Jesus is a SECOND God, but rather a second perception of the ONE TRUE God that we all agree exists! In essence, while Jesus was on Earth, since He is/was God (also called Allah), that was Allah!
Actually, Muhammad had some drastically incorrect ideas about Jesus and Mary. By the year 325 AD, three hundred years before the Koran, Christians had established the concept of the Trinity, as being ONE God, Who seemed to exist as Three different Persons, the Father (YHWH or Jehovah), the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Ghost, and never varied from that. If the Koran is actually the words of God (Allah), as Muslims believe, and not altered in any way since they were given to Muhammad, it seems odd that the Koran presents the Christian Trinity as being God, Jesus, and Mary! (Sura 5:116) This seems to imply that God (Allah) made a mistake, or Muhammad made a mistake, or later copyists/commentators made a mistake (several times, as at Sura 5.77 and Sura 4.169). Scholars see such things as obvious problems, but virtually all Muslims overlook them, and consider anyone bringing up such things as blasphemous.
If Muhammad had had this more correct understanding of what the Trinity was meant to represent, his attitude toward Jesus would have been EXTREMELY different! Rather than Jesus being considered as 'just' a Prophet, He would have been recognized as Allah Himself, Who had chosen to come down to the Earth, appearing as a mortal human.
With this understanding, the descriptions of Jesus and Mary in the Koran would have been very different, essentially becoming identical to the Christian information presented in the New Testament of the Bible.
Most of the elements of controversy between Christianity and Islam would disappear! The lessons of Peace and Love and Generosity and Tolerance which are in both the Bible and the Koran, would be seen to be one and the same, being Given to us by the same God/Allah/Lord.
Yes, there are also many differences in beliefs and Rites. Extensive study would be necessary to resolve them. But if both camps had similar attitudes regarding Jesus and Mary, many of the rest might quickly fall in line.
The Christians who think of a "team" are imagining a situation where there could be a "group portrait" where the Three were all present at the same time at the same place. But the Bible clearly indicates that we have interacted with each of the Three at distinctly different times in history. Now, whether God appears as One or Three in Heaven, none of us could know! But Christians should dispel that "team" misconception, as we clearly have dealt with our One God and never more!
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Pastor, A Christ Walk Church