Islam and Christianity: Major Differences
Those who argue that Islam and Christianity are quite similar really know very little about either religion. While there are some common features, the differences are many and substantial. To believe in one means you cannot believe in the other. Each one rules out the other. Here then are some of the major differences.
Revelation and the Bible
The Koran is the Word of God and the central focus of revelation. It was revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, although Muhammad was merely the recipient through whom the word passed. Although God spoke through many prophets (such as Moses, David, Christ and even men like Alexander the Great), the Koran annuls all of these previous revelations. The Koran is the final, perfect, and universal message of God. Conflicts between the Bible and the Koran are due to Jewish and Christian alterations and corruptions of the Biblical text.
The Bible is the Word of God and Jesus Christ is the central focus of revelation. God has revealed Himself both in the written word, the Bible, and in the human word, Jesus Christ. Christ didn’t just bring a revelation from God, but is Himself the revelation of God. All Scripture (both Old and New Testament) is inspired by God, and is authoritative in all it affirms. The New Testament canon was closed with the book of Revelation, and further claims of inspired writings are to be rejected.
Allah is totally transcendent and inaccessible to man. We have no personal self revelation of His character and all we know of Him is through what He has commanded. The foundation of Islam is the oneness and omnipotence of Allah. The love of God is rarely stressed. He is a despotic sovereign, not a loving Father. He is the God of fate who has unalterably predestined all things, evil as well as good. He is bound to no moral absolutes and His actions are determined simply by His own arbitrary will.
While God is transcendent, He is also personally concerned with, and intimately involved in, the affairs of men. His omnipotence is tempered by His moral character. His mercy never conflicts with His justice, righteousness and holiness, as there is a unity in His moral character. God is a heavenly Father who loves all men equally and desires to have fellowship and communion with them. However, His holiness demands that we approach Him cleansed of our sin, which the work of Christ makes possible. The love of God is an essential part of His nature – indeed, God is love. His actions are only always righteous and just.
Isa, or Jesus, is revered as a Prophet but His divinity is vigorously denied. He was a mere man, only a messenger of Allah created by God. He was born of the virgin Mary, performed miracles, and yet disclaimed divine honours. Since it was unjust for the innocent and sinless Christ to die a criminal’s death, an “appearance” or a substitute was crucified on the cross, while Christ ascended to heaven where He now occupies an inferior station. One day He will return as one of Muhammad’s caliphs to help establish Islam as the world’s one true religion. On the side of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem it says in Arabic, “God has no son”. Contrast this with Matthew 3:17: “This is my Son, whom I love”.
Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity, God’s final and perfect word to man. He came not just as God’s messenger, but as God incarnate, as Saviour and Lord. He is eternal and without sin, (and, since the incarnation) fully God and fully man, two complete natures in one person. He died on the cross for man’s sin and rose again on the third day, ascending to heaven. As predicted in the Old Testament, He will one day come again as Israel’s Messiah to set up His kingdom on earth and to subdue His enemies. Jesus Christ is the culminating thought of the Old Testament and the chief subject of the New Testament. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords to whom every knee will one day bow.
The Holy Spirit
The term “Spirit of God” can mean breath, a created being, such as Gabriel, or even Jesus, but it does not refer to God Himself. Muhammad is viewed by some Muslims as the comforter, or counselor, which Christ promised in John 14:16.
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is eternal, omnipotent, and omnipresent, as are the other two members of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is fully God and is also fully personal. The comforter which Christ predicted would come was not a man but a Spirit, who came to testify of Christ and indwell His disciples. It is through the Holy Spirit that the power and love of God is made manifest in the believer’s life.
Allah is one. To worship anyone else but Allah is idolatrous and unforgivable. Christians worship God, Mary and Jesus. (Islam erroneously understands Christianity to mean by the doctrine of the Trinity three gods: God the Father, Mary the Mother, and Jesus the Son.) The term “Son of God” is also blasphemous, for God did not take a wife and physically beget a child.
In the Bible the One God has revealed Himself in three ways: as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. In the Bible all divine titles and attributes are ascribed equally to the Father, the Son, and Spirit. Christians are equally opposed to the idea that there are three gods, or that God physically had a son. The term “Son of God” is to be understood in a spiritual, not a physical, sense. Jesus is the eternal Son of God. The Athanasian Creed explains the Trinity in this way: “We worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.”
Compared to the greatness of God, man is insignificant. His relation to Allah is that of a slave to his master. All that man can do is obey Allah as a bondslave and submit to His will (the word “Islam” means submission). Since Allah alone can create, man has no ability to create his own acts; he therefore has no free will. All of men’s actions are the creation of Allah.
God made man in His image to live in loving, personal fellowship with Himself. He created man with a free will so that man might voluntarily respond to His love. He intended that we be His children, not His slaves. The work of Christ on our behalf shows us how important we are to God and how much he loves us.
The practical outcome of the Islamic view of man is the denial of all human responsibility. Since sin, like all else, is as Allah wills, Muslims have little or no sense of their own sinfulness. The Fall is seen as a physical, not a spiritual, fall (i.e. man fell out of Paradise to the earth below). Original sin is denied, although man is said to be born weak. Muslims, therefore, do not seek salvation, but guidance and direction in their spiritual journey.
Man, with his free will, chose to reject God and His love, and now lives in alienation from Him. This choice to live without God is the essence of sin. It is proud independence and selfishness. All men after the Fall have chosen to reject God, and all men have sinned. Man is the author of sin, not God. It was never His will that men should sin. Sin is an abhorrence to God and is the source of the problems and misery in the world today. Sin is not just words and actions, but is rooted in our very nature.
Islam has no Saviour. Confession of the Creed (“There is no God but Allah…”) brings one into the Islamic community, wherein one seeks to earn his salvation by performing the religious duties and doing good works. At the Judgement Day men’s good deeds and bad deeds will be weighed, although ultimately, forgiveness is based on the arbitrary will of Allah. Allah saves those whom He chooses to save, and damns those whom He chooses to damn, with little or no moral basis for such choices.
It is God’s desire that all men be delivered from the power and penalty of sin, and be restored to a right relationship with Himself. Man by his own efforts is unable to please God or undo the effects of sin. Therefore God became man and lived a sinless life, and through His death on the cross fulfilled the demands of the law upon sinners, taking their penalty for sin upon Himself. Thus by His death He conquered sin, and by His resurrection He conquered death. God is now, on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, able to receive us unto Himself, when we turn from our sin and commit our lives to the Lord Jesus. By grace we are saved through faith. Good works do not procure our salvation but follow as an evidence of it.
Clearly then, on all the key doctrinal issues of the faith, Islam and Christianity are poles apart. To affirm the main teachings of Islam means to renounce those of Christianity, and to affirm biblical Christianity means of necessity to reject the basic tenets of Islam. The two are not at all similar, and can never be.
For more on the differences, especially in terms of political, social and culture values, see here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/03/19/islam-and-christianity-competing-worldviews/
15 Replies to “Islam and Christianity: Major Differences”
Apart from anything else, it has bothered me that Muhammad received his revelation while being strangled almost to death. That puts a question mark right there as to the origin of that revelation.
Thanks Bill. Very clear!
I like what I heard from Dennis Prager the other day: ‘Islam’ means ‘submission’ where ‘Israel’ means ‘struggle with God’. And I prefer to struggle with God. I think Christianity paints a far more relevant picture of God that is more conducive to human reason and democratic government.
They claim to be peaceful, they are not. They claim to ‘stay within’, they do not. They say to adapt to society, they do not, they destroy Western society. They claim to teach peace, they do not. They aim to bring Islam into our education system, they want to bring Muslim perspective into every subject. Horrors. Be warned!
Dear Bill, The people who try to say Islam and Christianity are similar refuse to seriously look at the differences. Thank you very much for pointing them out.
Regards, Franklin Wood
We are both Abraham’s children, but as Paul says in Galatians chapter 4, the choice is between being the children of the slave girl Hagar or the children of the free woman Sarah.
While on a tour bus in Jordan with a Christian group on the way to see Petra someone asked the guide about Islam. He proceeded to say it was a religion of peace and love. I said “But doesn’t the Koran say that if someone is not a believer they should be given the chance to convert and if they won’t they are to be killed?” He said “Well yes it does say that” I asked “Then how can you say it’s a religion of peace” he replied “Well that’s the difference, Jesus was to nice. Mohamed taught us to fight our enemy’s” So I said so your saying if someone doesn’t believe what you believe they are your enemy?” At which point our pastor put his hand on my shoulder, with a let it go look……the question never got answered….
Behind the similarity/difference issue of Christianity and Islam lies the anterior question regarding Islam as a phenomenon: what is it? How do we classify it?
I answer with C.S. Lewis, as follows:
“…Hinduism and Christianity. I believe these are the only two serious options for the adult mind. Materialism is a philosophy for boys. The purely moral systems like Stoicism and Confucianism are philosophies for aristocrats. Islam is only a Christian heresy, and Buddhism a Hindu heresy: both are simplifications inferior to the things simplified…they are the only two systems which have come down, still alive, into the present…” [“De Futilitate”, in “Christian Reflections”, Bles, 1967, p.71]
That ‘s right: Islam is a Christian heresy, an assessment which was the standard view in the Middle Ages, and which the Reformation adopted for the same reasons as the Schoolmen. And it is a view which can easily be supported by looking at its tenets, as described above.
For starters, it has a distorted view of revelation – i.e. by dictation through an angelic intermediary, whose name is borrowed from the NT (i.e. Gabriel, named in Luke 1:19, 26). Because they deny the Holy Spirit there can be no idea of inspiration as we find it in, say 2 Peter 1:21.
Hence the phenomenon of a holy book, dictated to a prophet while he was in some sort of trance is strikingly similar to the phenomenon of Joseph Smith and the origins of Mormonism, an acknowledged cult. The only differences are (a) the names of the angels – Gabriel for Muhammad, Moroni for Smith; and (b) the mode of revelation – dictation via Gabriel fro Muhammad, golden tablets and a pair of magic spectacles for Smith.
Then its view of Christ is equally distorted: the incarnation is denied. His death is also denied, and the only Qur’anic saying which refers to it, Sura 4:157, is variously interpreted by Muslims, the most common being that he only appeared to die (similar to the view of the ancient Docetics), and a look-alike took his place.
The resurrection is denied – naturally, but His ascension is affirmed, albeit not as we find it recorded in Acts 1, and likewise His Second Coming, but again, mixed up with Islamic distortions.
These partial affirmations of Christ strike us as similar to the partial affirmations we find in a whole slew of cults, from Mormonism to Christadelphianism.
As to salvation, we find the same old same old: a works programme (i.e. the five pillars of Islam) such as we find in both cults and non-Christian religions.
Christ warned us that in the era between His ascension and His Return false prophets would arise (Matt.24:11, 24), and in Muhammad we find the quintessential false prophet, who has misled billions of deluded souls. But false prophets belong in a certain milieu: i.e. heretical cults. Witness in modern times Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Father Divine, Jim Jones, David Korresh, Sun Yung Moon, and a host of others. Muhammad is merely an ancient version of the same.
But that Christian heresy known as Islam is a particularly virulent one: it has violence at its heart, combined with a consuming conviction that it alone is right and true. The two make for a very potent brew.
However, to sum up, what is Islam? it is a Christian heresy from the early Middle Ages, in which the following elements can be (and have been) traced:
1. Gnosticism: an ancient heresy, but in Muhammad’s time it still prevalent in Egypt, with which Arabia had considerable contacts in Muhammad’s time (and earlier);
2. Pre-Islamic paganism: the predominant religion of Arabia prior to Muhammad was moon-worship, and both the crescent symbol and the Qa’aba stone come from this paganism.
3. Judaism, and Christianity, from which Muslims get all the OT prophets and characters, but declare that the covenant was made with Ishmael, not Isaac. However, the revelation of God to the Jews and the Christians is seen as hopelessly corrupted; while the true revelation belongs to the Muslims (a similar type of claim is made by the Mormons).
4. Sprinklings from other religions, notably the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism.
Murray R Adamthwaite
I want to point out, that although commonly assumed, we are not actually both Abraham’s offspring.
‘Muslim’ is different from ‘Arab’. In fact, the large majority of Muslims are non-Arab people. Ismael was the father of Arabs, not Muslims- the two are different.
Further, the Jewish people are the ethnic descent of Abraham. Gentiles are spiritual children, not biological ones.
I point this out, because where I live (the largest Islamic country), such opinions are used in disasterous ways to promote some pretty wild contextualisation approaches amongst Muslims.
(N.B- I’m not suggesting that is what you do/want, just that that perspective is used as justification)
Can anyone clarify this: Does Islam mean ‘peace’ or does it mean ‘submission’? I ask because I thought that ‘Islam’ meant ‘peace’, while Muslim meant ‘submission’. Bill says above that Islam means submission and one Islamic pamphlet says: “The Arabic word ‘Islam’ literally means ‘submission’ to the one true God (Allah) alone.” (About Islam #2) whereas another pamphlet in the same set says: “… submitting to God’s commands, which in Arabic means to become a ‘Muslim’ …” (Purpose Of Life Islamic Pamphlet).
It means submission, surrender. The Arabic term does not mean peace.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
It seems apposite to draw obvious similarities between Islam & Chinese Communism. Both had their ‘sacred’ book; Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ & The ‘Koran’. Both are totally & completely authoritarian; adherents of both proclaim, in effect, “Be my brother or I’ll knock you block off’. Both require ‘total submission’ which then assures “Peace”. Both have their ‘thought police’ which tend to terrorise ‘disbelievers’. Both reward the ‘faithful’; either by membership of the Communist Party, or by promised ‘delights’ in the hereafter. Both disparage the ‘unfaithful’.
Wake up, fellow Aussies, the ultimate test of any philosophy/religion is the type of person it produces.
Do you have any details of the aftermath of the so called ‘Islamic Peace Conference’?
David Clay, Melbourne
Thanks David, yes I do. See here for a summary of how things panned out:
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
An interesting article which raises an interesting question. If as per the article man has no ‘free will,’ as all acts of man are essentially the creation of Alah, then this means the decision NOT to follow Islam is also the decision of Alah. My understanding is that if the Koran is interpreted literally, it prescribes ‘non believers’ should either be given the opportunity to take up Islam or be put to death (ISIS are currently implementing this aspect of the Koran in Iraq on the Christian minority). Therefore on the one hand it would seem it is the ‘will’ of Alah that person does not follow Islam, but on the other hand the Koran states if a person is a ‘non believer’ they should convert or die. If I understand the principles correctly this is not an insignificant contradiction. I am reading a book at the moment (Agent Storm), about a Swedish man who became a radical Muslim, who went to Yemen to study Islam, and took up the Jihad. This same contradiction, which ultimately in the context of the modern day Jihad means the slaughtering of innocent men, women and children, was what caused him to renounce his faith in Islam, and turn informant for MI6 and CIA.