Our pull-out series for 2021 is taken from Understanding Islam from a Christian Perspective , by Rosemary Sookhdeo, Barnabas Fund’s International Director of Finance.
The following excerpts from her popular and informative book give invaluable insights into areas where the religion of Islam, which was established 600 years after Christ, has borrowed from Christianity and explains the key theological differences between the two religions.
Sin, Salvation and End Times
Sin and Islam
Sin is seen in a completely different way in Islam from how it is seen in Christianity. In Islam there is no consciousness of sin in relation to a righteous God or of the seriousness of it in relation to faith. Islam rejects the doctrine of original sin and the account of Adam’s fall and its consequences for the “fall of mankind”.75 The Quran teaches that human beings are not “fallen” or separated from God.76
Islam explains man’s nature at birth as fitrah – a state of intrinsic goodness. Like Adam, people are born pure and sinless. “Every child is born in a state of fitrah, and social environment causes the individual to deviate from this state,” writes Islamic scholar Yasien Mohamed.77 This is very different from the Biblical teaching that we are “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5) and “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Islam does not conceive of sin in relation to a holy and righteous God. The missionary Samuel Zwemer pointed out how God’s holiness is completely ignored in the Quran.78
A Muslim will have no assurance of the forgiveness of sins
Sin is seen within the context of a legalistic framework as an act of wrongdoing and not specifically related to the human heart. Islam distinguishes between the greater and the lesser sins. Greater sins would include adultery, drinking alcohol, murder, homosexuality, false testimony and theft, amongst many others. Greater sins are more serious and will lead to punishment; the lesser sins are common to everyone and are much easier to be forgiven or overlooked. This breaking of the law can be remedied by good deeds.
To a Muslim the most serious sins would be:
The sin of shirk, that is, associating someone else with Allah, is an unpardonable sin. Christians commit this sin of shirk by associating someone else with Allah when they claim that Jesus is the Son of God.
The sin of apostasy or leaving the Islamic religion is so serious that Sharia prescribes the death penalty for a sane adult man and for a woman either death or imprisonment until she repents. This can be the barrier to Muslims coming to Christ and the fear of committing this can bind them to the religion of Islam.
Sins such as murder and adultery.
When we talk about Jesus taking our sin on Himself on the cross and giving us forgiveness of sin when we accept Him into our life this has little meaning for Muslims. As Christians we consider ourselves to be sinful in that we constantly do things that are contrary to what God desires.
The gravity of sin in Islam is diluted by treating sin as failing to remember God’s instructions, rather than rebellion against God as it is viewed in Christianity.
The central Christian doctrine of the atonement, wherein our Lord Jesus takes upon Himself the punishment for our sin and becomes a mediator for the human race, is absent in Islam. Muhammad plays no mediatory role in the Quran, as the following verses make clear. “O ye who believe! Spend out of (the bounties) We have provided for you, before the Day comes when no bargaining (will avail), nor friendship nor intercession” (sura 2:254). In fact, according to a well-known hadith, Muhammad worried about future judgement on his own family. “O Safiyah, the Aunt of Allah’s Apostle! I cannot save you from Allah’s Punishment; O Fatima bint Muhammad [his daughter]! Ask me anything from my wealth, but I cannot save you from Allah’s Punishment”.79
The Quran leaves Muslims with little assurance of salvation. As Christians, “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1) and we are assured of salvation because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Moreover, Jesus Himself assures His followers of eternal life when He says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
Salvation and Islam
Salvation as we know it in Christianity does not really exist within Islam. Even the word “salvation” has no equivalent in Islamic thought. In Christianity sin causes separation from a holy God, and our sins are forgiven or blotted out when we receive salvation by the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. We look to the cross and resurrection, to Jesus dying for our sins and rising again for our justification, and to the assurance that we have of eternal life. In Christianity, there is an inextricable link between salvation and sin.
In contrast, Muslims understand the phrase “being saved” only in the context of being delivered from hell-fire to paradise, not in the context of sin’s causing separation from God and the assurance of eternal life. Many converts from Islam say that the Christian concept of salvation was the very thing that attracted them to Christ.
In Islam there is no assurance of heaven
Islam does not make it clear whether a person will go to heaven or hell. Whilst some texts say that all Muslims will have to go through hell before entering paradise, others indicate that those who believe and do right – the god-fearing – will enter the Gardens (Jannah) of Delight or Paradise.80
Here we see the linking of believing and doing good works. However, the assurance of one’s eternal destiny and escape from the agony of hell-fire is lacking within Islam, and Muslims can only hope for Paradise but with no certainty. We need to share with Muslims that it is possible to have the assurance of heaven through putting our trust in Jesus Christ. This can be a very effective point to share in evangelism.
Islam teaches the assurance of salvation only in the exceptional case of martyrdom. People who die fighting for Islam or engaged in jihad is are called shahids (martyrs or witnesses), and their actions are recognised as self-sacrificing and noble. Martyrdom is not regarded as suicide or even related to it. Muslims believe that shahids will go immediately to Paradise with all their sins forgiven. This act can be the only assurance of heaven after death for the Muslim. The martyr can then intercede for seventy of his relatives to enter Paradise immediately on their death.
A Muslim woman’s destiny in eternity
What happens when a Muslim woman dies? Does she face the same fate as her husband or is there an entirely different set of rules? What happens if a woman decides to become a martyr? One Muslim woman caught before she could blow herself up expected to become “the purest and most beautiful form of angel at the highest level possible in heaven”.81P
However, Muhammad looked into hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women. A hadith in Bukhari’s collection says, “Once Allah’s Apostle said to a group of women, ‘Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).’”82
This hadith and a number of others state that the majority of the people in hell are women. So how does a woman get to Paradise? Elsewhere, the hadith teaches that a woman gets to Paradise by being absolutely obedient to her husband. It is this that shows her piety and guarantees her eternal destiny. He is her paradise or her hell, and without obedience to her husband, there is no heaven for a woman.
The wives of the righteous and obedient are mentioned as accompanying their husbands in Paradise. Women in Paradise must be submissive, subordinate, veiled and secluded in the harems of heaven, watching quietly as their husbands make love with the beautiful houris (perpetual virgins) of Paradise. Man is her master on earth and she will be subjugated to him forever in heaven as well. There is no provision made for single women in heaven.
In evangelism to Muslim women, talking about the assurance and hope of heaven can really speak to their hearts. If they remain within Islam, they have a depressing future with no hope before them when they die. We need to share how we have this eternal destiny with the King of kings and Lord of lords and they can have this glorious and eternal future in front of them as well. Many Muslim women come to Christ to find this assurance of salvation.
Judgement day for Muslims
A Muslim can never be sure of salvation at the Last Judgement. The first thing to be judged will be prayer. Failure to pray can render a Muslim an unbeliever and will result in his being thrown into the fires of hell. To avoid hell he must repent before he dies, but even then he can never be sure of his destiny. A Muslim who has fallen into unbelief, like the person who leaves Islam, will suffer the eternal fires of hell. Those who have committed minor sins and have not repented will, after a period in hell, be able to enter Paradise.
At the Last Judgement, a person’s entire sum of good deeds will be weighed on the scales against the bad deeds, and if the good deeds outweigh the bad deeds, the person will be allowed to enter Paradise. A Muslim who has done few good deeds and has not kept the duties and obligations of Islam has little hope of Paradise; even if he has done numerous good deeds there is always the worry that the bad deeds might outweigh the good deeds. Salvation is by works alone.
Allah decides who will be saved and who will be damned
In the final analysis, “Allah wills what he wills”. Sura 14:4 reads, “Now Allah leaves straying those whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases”. Sura 7:178 supports this teaching. “Whom Allah doth guide – He is on the right path: Whom he rejects from His guidance – such are the persons who perish”. Allah decides who will be saved and who will be damned.
In the light of these verses, Muslim theologians developed the concept of God’s eternal decree. God has determined all things in advance and has written them down in the eternal book of his decrees. These include human actions. Thus, Allah decides a person’s salvation and damnation before their birth, and their personal history is merely the working out of Allah’s decree. Muslims hope the final day will reveal that the decree of the Divine has been favourable to them. Consistent with their view, however, they will not be inclined to say, “I am saved”, but rather to say, “I am saved if God wills”.
There is only one true God and all other ways are lost
The Ten Commandments in Exodus (20:3) make it clear that there is one true God. This is followed through in the New Testament with passages such as 1 Corinthians 8:6: “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live”. In Ephesians 4:4-6 we read: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”.
A good starting point for further conversation is Mark 12:28-29, as Muslims would agree with this: “‘Of all the commandments which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”’”
However, it is important in our evangelism to Muslims to point out that we believe in one God and not three gods. As well as pointing out that we believe in one God we should mention that God is a triune God of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
It says very clearly in the Bible that there is salvation in no other but Jesus Christ and all other ways are lost. This means that anyone who does not accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour is going to a lost eternity. We have a responsibility as Christians to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to those we come across.
The end times in Islam
Islam’s end-time scenario is radically different from Christianity’s. Muslims believe in the lesser and greater signs of the Hour. They believe that humankind will reach a state of great suffering and then the awaited Mahdia will appear. He will be the first of the greater signs of the Hour.
The Mahdi will rule until the False Messiah or Antichrist (al-Masikh al-Dajjal or al-Masih al-Dajjal), who will spread oppression and corruption, appears. The False Messiah will destroy humankind and the earth will witness the greatest tribulation in its history. Then Isa (as Jesus is called in Islam) will descend to earth and bring justice. The False Messiah will be killed, either by the Mahdi or by Isa, according to different traditions, ushering in a period of safety and security.
Gog and Magog will then appear and surprise humankind and corruption will take over again. Then Isa prays and Gog and Magog will die. Later, Isa will die and be buried alongside Muhammad. This will be followed by the appearance of the Beast, which will lead to the Day of Judgement.
a The Mahdi, literally “the one who is guided”, is an eschatological figure mentioned in some hadith but not the Quran. There are a variety of beliefs about this end-time military saviour.
Jonathan Benthall, Islamic Charities and Islamic Humanism in Troubled Times. Manchester: MUP, 2016, p. 173.
See sura 30:30; A. Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an. Beltsville: Amana Publications, 1999, p. 1016, fn. 3541.
Yasien Mohamed, Human Nature in Islam. Kuala Lumpur: A. S. Noordeen, 1998, p. 41.
S. M. Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God. New York: American Tract Society, 1905, p. 49.
Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, in Alim, at http://www.alim.org/library/hadith/SHB/16/4, Hadith 4:16.
Sura 16:31; A. Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an. 1999, p. 644.
81 ‘Shahid’, in Encyclopaedia of Islam. Leiden: Brill, 1997, Vol. 9, p. 204.
82 Al-Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari in Alim. Silver Spring: Maryland: ISL Software Corp., 1986-1999, now online at http://www.alim.org/library/hadith/SHB/301/1, Hadith 1:301.