Dr Mark Durie of Melbourne here presents a helpful examination of the main differences between Islam and Christianity, especially in regard to three key areas: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God.
It is well known that Muslims claim that they worship the same God as Judaism and Christianity. But do they? Is Allah the same as the God of the Bible? And is the Muslim understanding of who Jesus is the same as that of the New Testament? Do Muslims understand the Holy Spirit in the same way as Christians do?
These questions are explored in an easy-to-read fashion in this brief (150 page) but helpful volume. Dr Durie has had many years involvement in working amongst Muslim communities, and with theologian training, and experience as a pastor, and he is well placed to address these issues.
Jesus, or Isa, as he is known to Muslims, is of course the central figure of the Christian faith. A faulty understanding of Jesus leads to a faulty understanding of Christianity. Thus it is vital that Christians have a clear grasp of how the Bible portrays Jesus, and an awareness of how Islam takes a much different approach when it considers Jesus.
Not only does Islam present a faulty understanding of who Jesus is, but on the central question of the Christian faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus, Islam takes a completely contradictory view to that of Christianity. Whereas Christianity insists that Jesus died on a cross for our sins and then rose again, Islam denies this vital doctrine. Instead, Muslims believe that Jesus did not die, but ascended to heaven.
Thus the very heart and soul of Christian belief is denied by Islamic teaching. Indeed, Muslims go further and claim that those who say that Jesus died on a cross and rose again are liars, and that one day Isa will return and judge those who hold to such beliefs.
And the presentation of Jesus in the Quran is fully at odds with the biblical account. In fact, much of what the Quran says about Jesus was taken from earlier Jewish and Christian folktales about Jesus. And the claim that Jesus predicted the coming of Muhammad is a faulty understanding of his prediction of the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 14: 26.
The Holy Spirit is equally misunderstood in Islam. Muhammad had limited understanding of this topic, and in Islam there are several candidates for spirits associated with Allah. None bear any close semblance to the Biblical understanding, in which the third person of the Trinity is seen as fully God, and personal as well.
But it’s the question of who God is that especially demands clear thinking. Missionaries to Muslims have long debated the question, Is Allah God? That is, is the God of Islam to be equated with the God of the Bible? Durie makes it clear that the answer must be no. Thus it is imperative that believers understand who their God is, and how he contrasts to Allah.
Says Durie: “No-one can truly understand the nature of a faith without engaging with the very essence of the identity of their god. Christians will never understand Islam until they understand who Allah is, and Muslims will never understand Christianity until they engage with the character of YHWH as revealed in the Bible.”
If we simply study the attributes of God alone, we see a huge set of differences between the two. The total and utter transcendence of Allah is perhaps his key attribute in Islam. The God of the Bible is certainly transcendent, but he is equally immanent, something totally foreign to Islam. The creator of the universe can also stoop to our level, interact with us, and establish a relationship with us. We can even call God father. This is quite alien to Muslim thinking. No Muslim can speak of a close and loving relationship with Allah, let alone call him father.
And of course Muslims completely misinterpret our concept of the Trinity. They take it to mean God, Mary and Jesus, instead of God the father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Other differences abound. Consider the holiness of God, which may be the primary attribute of God in the biblical revelation (if one attribute can be singled out above the others – a contentious point!). Durie points out that Allah is only twice described as holy in the Quran. The Bible by contrast presents this theme hundreds of times.
Or consider the love of God. In the Quran, the love of Allah is clearly conditional, based on what men do, and determined by the arbitrary will of Allah. In contrast, the biblical concept of love is considered to be a gift of grace, lavishly bestowed upon mankind. Many other differences can be mentioned.
Other short chapters in this book deal with the image of God in man, the problem of evil, and related themes. Although many of the insights contained in this book can be found elsewhere, it is a helpful volume which pulls together a fair amount of information to answer the author’s original question. And the evidence presented here makes it clear that it is “reasonable to reject the claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God or honour the same Christ”.