After Christianity, Islam is the most populous religion worldwide. Almost two billion people consider themselves Muslims. They live in large parts of Africa and Asia. Since 1900, there have been sizeable Muslim communities in the West as well. Many Christians come in contact with Muslims sooner or later. Therefore, it is a good question to ask what the main differences are between Christianity and Islam. But before we discuss the differences, we will focus on the similarities.
Similarities between Christianity and Islam
The two largest world religions are both monotheistic. Both consider the worship of many gods to be idolatry which is absolutely forbidden. Both religions rely on prophets such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus and have a book as their main written source: the Bible for Christians and the Qur’an for Muslims. The two religions also share a common origin. The Arabs, who were the first Muslims, descended from Ishmael, the son of Abraham. The Jews, who were the first Christians, also have Abraham as their father through his other son Isaac. Both Christianity and Islam see themselves as a religion of peace. Believers are urged to live justly and in peace. Prayer and almsgiving are therefore important to Christians as wells as Muslims.
Differences between Christianity and Islam
Next to the similarities, there are also many differences between Christianity and Islam. These differences are so fundamental that the two religions are ultimately incompatible. I will mention four of them:
- Christianity and Islam are monotheistic, but Christianity is also trinitarian. Christians believe in God’s trinity. God has one Being and exists in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For Muslims, this is inconceivable. According to them, God cannot be more than one. Christians agree with this, but still maintain that in God there three Persons must be distinguished. This is incomprehensible to the mind but nevertheless clearly revealed in Scripture. The Deity of the Son and the Spirit is essential to salvation. If the Son and the Spirit were not God, we cannot be saved.
- Christianity and Islam see Jesus as a prophet, but Christianity sees Jesus as much more than that. Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah. He reconciled God and man. Jesus died on the cross and was raised again after three days. Whoever believes in Him has eternal life. Muslims think that someone other than Jesus was crucified. They suspect Jews and Christians of falsifying the Bible and resisting becoming Muslim. Jesus was an extraordinary prophet, but He cannot be God. For Christians, however, the Bible is the reliable testimony of God and the Lord Jesus. In the Bible we find life! Muslims consider Muhammad to be the most important prophet, but Christians do not recognize him.
- According to Christians and Muslims, God is merciful and just. However, Muslims cannot be sure whether God’s mercy outweighs His justice. Only at the Day of Judgment it will be revealed whether or not they have done enough good in life to receive forgiveness from Allah. But Christians realize that everything they do will never be enough to satisfy God. God though sacrificed His own Son as an atonement out of pure grace. By grace, people may share in the reconciliation. They receive this by the Holy Spirit and by faith without doing anything. Muslims live in uncertainty concerning their salvation, but Christians are sure. Muslims have to work their way up. Christians receive for free what God gives from above.
- Both religions have an important book. However, the Qur’an is much less extensive than the Bible. The Qur’an was written in about twenty years, the Bible in over a thousand years. Thus, the Bible covers a much longer time period, and contains a larger collection of texts. The Qur’an should not be translated. The Bible itself was already written in two languages and has now been (partially) translated into over a thousand languages.
In short, Islam and Christianity seem to have many superficial similarities. But on closer scrutiny there are fundamental differences. The four most important concern:
- Who God is
- Who Jesus is
- What sin is
- Which book is vital