(Seventh in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)
Both Christianity and Islam believe in angels and prophets and in a God who communicates through holy scriptures, but their prophets and scriptures are very different.
Based on the thesis that people become like what they worship, and relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God, in this series, I have compared and contrasted social implications of Muslim and Christian beliefs about God, man, nature, salvation, and the future. This last post in this series addresses the social implications of Muslim and Christian beliefs about divine revelation.
In Muslim theology, the Qur’an is a verbatim incarnation of God’s word. It is an extension of divine essence and a part of eternity. In Christian theology, Jesus fulfills that role. While to most Christians the Bible is divinely inspired and miraculously without error, it is not an extension of God’s essence. The Bible quotes God, but it is not word for word in every word a direct quote from the mouth of God.
Christians believe that Jesus is divine (John 10:30-33), so that every word of Jesus is a word straight from the mouth of God. That is how Muslims view the Qur’an. Christians believe that the Bible is divinely provided and protected in order to show us Jesus (John 5:39). Muslims believe that about Muhammad. They believe Muhammad was divinely provided and protected in order to give us the Qur’an.
As a result, in Muslim theology, burning a Qur’an would be like crucifying Christ or desecrating the Eucharist. Burning a Qur’an is exponentially more explosive than burning a Bible. In Indonesia, I saw a man die in a hospital from a beating after he’d been arrested for allegedly burning some verses of the Qur’an that were supposedly mixed in with some magic charms that he was burning. In Christian theology, burning the Bible is like burning a valuable and special book, but it is nothing to Christians like burning a Qur’an is to Muslims. Functionally, for their respective groups, the Bible and the Qur’an are different, so the responses of the respective groups are different as well.
Functionally, the Muslim equivalent to the Christian Bible is Muhammad as he is known through their hadith and sunnah.
The hadith are written records of the sayings and actions of Muhammad. The sunnah is the “way” of Muhammad that the hadith reveals. Without knowing the “way” of Muhammad, there can be no authoritative application of the Qur’an. Similarly, without the Bible, there can be no authoritative knowledge of Christ.
Muslims do not study the Qur’an devotionally the way that Christians study the Bible. Rather, what Muslims study devotionally is the life of Muhammad. Muslims find life lessons in the way that Muhammad conversed, ate, drank, slept, washed, and even had sex. Muhammad is devotionally equivalent to the Bible, not the Qur’an.
Muslim clerics are legal scholars as well as theological ones. Muslim people leave interpreting the Qur’an to trained clerics the way that Americans leave interpreting the Constitution to trained lawyers. Muslims often memorize large portions of the Qur’an. But memorizing the Qur’an does not give one authority to interpret and apply it any more than memorizing the U.S. Constitution gives one credentials for practicing constitutional law.
For Christians, their ruler is Jesus. Though he rules a heavenly rather than an earthly kingdom, he still rules. Christians call Jesus their Lord as well as their Savior. The Muslim equivalent to Jesus is the Qur’an. Muslims are devoted to the Qur’an the way that Christians are devoted to Jesus, and they treat it legally the way that Americans treat the U.S. Constitution. The Qur’an is a Muslim’s highest sovereign in the same way that Jesus is a Christian’s highest sovereign.
This post has been about the form that God uses to communicate with people. Both Christianity and Islam have prophets and scriptures; however, those prophets and scriptures don’t correlate with one another. Christians revere the man Jesus as the essence of God, whom they receive and understand through the Bible. Muslims revere the Qur’an as an essence of god, which they receive and understand through their prophet Muhammad. Functionally Muhammad correlates to the Bible and the Qur’an correlates to Jesus. Correlating Jesus with Muhammad and the Bible with the Qur’an is a mistake for Muslims trying to understand Christianity and for Christians trying to understand Islam.
That concludes this blog series comparing the implications of Muslim and Christian beliefs on God, man, nature, salvation, the future, and revelation. Many more comparisons could be made. The two religions are very different from each other.
It’s important for Christians not to fall into the popular trap of allowing people who have no religious affiliation to treat Christianity and Islam as if they were the same. If Christianity and Islam are essentially the same, then their fundamentalists are the same as well. One of the biggest challenges to religious freedom for Evangelicals in America comes not from Muslims, but from people with no religious affiliation, who will inevitably treat Evangelicals as if they were the same threat to civic order as extremist Muslims.